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75th anniversary of Orson Welles’ ‘War of the Worlds’ broadcast

The idea, It was simply the weekly broadcast of Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre. On the evening of October 30, 1938, in honor of Halloween, they had decided to stage a highly dramatized and updated version of H.G. Wells’ story, The War of the Worlds. The audience listening to CBS Radio were told they were going to be treated to the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra, broadcast live from the Meridian Room at the Park Plaza in New York City. The performance began, but mere minutes into it a reporter from Intercontinental Radio News interrupted to deliver an important announcement. Astronomers had just detected enormous blue flames shooting up from the surface of Mars… and the rest is History.

War of the Worlds reached a huge audience, demonstrating the enormous reach of radio at that time. Approximately six million people heard it. Out of this number it was long thought that almost one million people panicked. More recent research, however, suggests that the number of people who panicked is probably far lower. In fact, some skeptics contend that the idea that the broadcast touched off a huge national scare is more of a hoax than the broadcast itself, which was never intended to fool anyone. Most of those who panicked were middle-aged or older. Younger listeners tended not to panic because they recognized Orson Welles’s voice as the voice of the hero in the popular radio series, The Shadow.

New Jersey farmer Bill Dock prepares to fight off the invading Martians.

At In the days following the adaptation, George Orson Welles apologized for the The War of the Worlds broadcast.

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