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War of the Worlds

Lecture 5 on Radio

Drew Hamilton

on 7 March 2011

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Transcript of War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds
The Great Radio Hoax
Originally aired October 31, 1938
Who was the person behind it?
Orson Welles
Put on the air by Orson Welles his show and "The Mercury Theatre on the Air"
Mercury Theatre ran a distant 2nd in the ratings to the "Charlie McCarthy Show" on another network
On Halloween night, Welles came up with a radio drama involving Martians invading Earth, based on the H.G. Wells science fiction novel "The War of the Worlds"
The show was in the form of a mock radio newscast featuring supposedly live reports from various parts of the United States tracing the destructive advance of the Martians across the country.
Real or Fake?
The beginning of the show clearly stated that it was dramatic fiction….BUT….
Listeners of the Charlie McCarthy Show who flipped over during commercials didn’t hear the disclaimer
While there was a script, Welles like to adapt on the fly, so the LIVE coast-to-coast broadcast was modified as they went along
Sound effects played an important part in the believability
A lot of people who were listening were smart enough to tune to other radio stations, and finding no similar doomsday coverage, concluded that it was only a drama….however, a lot DIDN’T
This is real!
People barricaded themselves in their homes and armed themselves
People jumped in their cars and fled to the country
Thousands flocked to church “to settle things” before the end
A water tower in New Jersey was shot (it was mistaken for Martians)
Pennsylvania’s governor called New Jersey’s and offered troop support
People in one apartment building covered their heads with towels to prevent “Martian rays” from harming them
It's estimated as many as 1 million people were fooled into thinking it was real
People who were duped were FURIOUSImmediately after the show ended, Welles and the Mercury troupe were questioned by police (no arrests)
Legislative action was threatened about banning “fake newscasts” but ultimately nothing was done
Orson Welles became an overnight celebrity
Ten years later, the broadcast was rerecorded in Spanish and played in Ecuador, with similar results. However, when people learned it was fake, hundreds stormed the radio station and burned it to the ground (along with one man who was stuck inside)
The broadcast also made listeners a lot more skeptical about news stories
Full transcript