70th anniversary of Orson Wells' radio adaptation of War of the worlds

Today marks the 70th anniversary of Orson Welles’ infamous radio adaptation of War of the worlds. After listening to the play it’s not hard to imagine someone believing it to be true. Orson Wells and the Mercury theater really paint a vivid picture of Martians invading earth.
You can listen to the play here.

Trivia about this:

1.) Until I saw the TV movie The Night that Panicked America (by Nicholas Meyer), I hadn’t realized how much the governmen official sounded like FDR. Undoybtedly intentional.

2.) According to SF writer William Tenn, the version he heard was NOT prefaced by an intro telling you that it was fiction (as everyone says today). If true (It’s his direct memory, after all. On the other hand, he was recalling this 50 years or so after the event), it’d help explain how so many people were confused by it. You didn’t have to be one of those folks who listened to the intro at the Charlie McCarthy show and switched over in time to hear the fake news reports.

3.) I grew up about 40 miles from Grover’s Mills, where the Martians were supposed to have landed. The Grover’s Mill company is still there, and they still have the windmill that was supposed to be mistaken for a Martian tripod up there. It does NOT look like your typcal windmill, so I can see how someone might be fooled by it.

4.) There’s a similar windmill in fro=nt of Forsgate Farms, nearby. I Do NOT think that one is an original – I suspect they bought one and moved it in.

5.) Pepper Mill grew up in the town of Grover’s Mills, which is tiny. I’ve long suspected that she’s a Martian. Or at least a Red Lectroid. She has a Red Lectroid Secret “John” Name.

6.) I have a commemnorative edition CD + DVD set that has a 1950s reconstruction of the broadcast for TV, over a decade before Meyer’s “The Night that Panicked America”. Interesting stuff.

7.) It also has a simultaneous radio interview of Orson Welles and H.G. Wells from 1940. VERY interesting stuff.


I had an LP recording of the radio broadcast when I was a kid. It was still thrilling to listen to. Howard Koch, the author of the radio adaptation, later wrote a book about it, The Panic Broadcast.

Well now, don’t panic, martians have already invaded and were actually quite harmless. I mean, my family has been here several generations.

  1. According to something I read (sorry no cite) that the broadcast began during the broadcast of another popular radio series, so most people wouldn’t have heard the beginning. Plus this was broadcast only about two months after the beginning of WWII, so people were ready to believe just about anything.

I’ve read that, according to a study conducted soon after the broadcast by an entity called the Radio Project, about one in six listeners believed that a real invasion was taking place, but most believed it was Germans, not Martians. (If you imagine missing the first part of the broadcast and tuning in to hear reports of mechanized assault vehicles and poison gas, it makes sense.) The pretense of being a live report was dropped in the second half of the program, so anybody who kept listening would have their fears put to rest.

I tried to find the original report, but Google turned up a bunch of sites claiming that the broadcast was sponsored by the Rockefellers (via the Radio Project) as some sort of nefarious propoganda experiment, and it hurt my brain.

That’s what I was referring to (in the very section you quote):

The Other Popular Series was Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. I gather the opening was kinda like Jay Leno’s opening mopnologue on the Tonight Show – a lot of people caught it and ignored the rest of the show.

The story I heard was the people turned from the popular Charlie McCarthy show when it had it’s first commercial break. Normally, people would hop back and forth between stations, avoiding as many commercials as possible - what we would now call channel surfing. When the audience heard a “news” broadcast on the other station, they stayed put. They had missed the disclaimer, and then got sucked in.

My Grandmother said she put my father and uncle to bed that night and turned on the radio after the start of the WoTW broadcast. She swore that if she had not recognized Orson Welles’ voice as the astronomer right away, she would have been taken in by the whole thing.

I heard the WoTW broadcast in grade school in the early 70s. In New Jersey. One thing that struck me was the story moved a bit too fast for reality, even compared to war news from Europe. Of course, I had the advantage of knowing it was fake.

Even knowing it was an old broadcast, hearing an official sounding voice on the “radio” name the county you are in - and every county around it - as being under martial law is very creepy. Most creepy. It’s creepissimo!

And the “pickle jar in the toilet” sound effect was perfection!

It was broadcast in October 1938, nine months before the outbreak of war in Europe.

… but after the annexations of Austria and the Sudetenland. War was certainly on people’s minds.