The War of the Worlds Effect

Vinyl Record circa 1975

Seventy-five years ago on Oct 30, 1938, Orson Welles famously performed a 60-minute radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ alien invasion story, The War of the Worlds. Here we have a documentary about the phenomenon by RadioLab.

The Infamous “War of the Worlds” program was part of a series called The Mercury Theater featured an hour of radio drama aired on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). It scared the daylights out of the American public.

The show was performed without any commercial breaks. It also contained a series of fictional news bulletins. Many listeners casually tuned in after the initial announcements that the program was a radio play.

Welles performing,The Mercury Theater on the Air, 1938

The public was already on edge because of the looming war overseas. Many folks actually believed that the earth was under attack by extraterrestrial beings from the Planet Mars.

The news made the front page of the New York Times. There was an immediate backlash. An enraged public demanded an explanation. Public hearings were held to get to the bottom of the resulting scandal.


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