Thursday, October 30, 2008

War of the Worlds, 70 years ago

When I was a kid (and continuing into adulthood) I was fascinated by the radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds" by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater. I don't recall the genesis of my interest, or how I learned about the broadcast and its after-effects, but I do remember that I spent my own coin to buy tapes of the broadcast when I was in 7th grade or so.

You probably know the story, but Orson Welles' team adapted "War of the Worlds", HG Wells' sci-fi blueprint classic of Martian invasion into a somewhat realistic sounding radio-broadcast, as if a night of musical programming were being interrupted by news bulletins, and finally military commandeering the radio waves to coordinate strikes.

Supposedly people switching over from the Edgar Bergen/ Charlie McCarthy show believed the program to be real, and some fled for the hills and/ or otherwise panicked. Rumor has it one farmer shot a water tower in the dark, believing he was shooting at one of the fearsome Martian tri-pods.

The broadcast itself is fairly chilling as you do, in fact, get a feeling of what this might have felt like to an audience who wasn't clear on what was going on. It's believably well-acted, and the narrative arc of curiosity to calamity sounds entirely plausible, even as the tri-pods incinerate a reporter. To this point, the technique of false news-casts hadn't been used, and caused a major stir in the days and weeks after the broadcast.

Rtaher than rehash in its entirety, its worth checking out what Wikipedia has to say.

This evening, Ball State radio will recreate the broadcast. I may listen in as its simulcast online.

I think you can hear the original broadcast recording here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's worth noting that the War of the Worlds stunt was repeated... twice!

The Wikipedia entry mentions it.... but for a real treat, listen to this episode of Radio Lab (free mp3 link at the jump):