Tuesday, October 29, 2013

'War of the Worlds' Panic Broadcast: 75th Anniversary

File:Landingsite statue.JPG

Photograph of monument at the supposed landing site of a 1938 Martian invasion in Grovers Mill, New Jersey. (Image Source: Wikipedia.org )

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

Wednesday evening will mark the 75th anniversary of the legendary Orson Welles' radio broadcast, "The War of the Worlds," which created the illusion in the minds of some radio listeners that Earth was actually being invaded by beings from the Planet Mars! Broadcast on the day before Halloween (1938 October 30) as an episode of the radio drama anthology series, "The Mercury Theatre on the Air" on the CBS Radio Network (including then-Pittsburgh CBS Radio Network affiliate WJAS-AM 1300), the broadcast was an adaptation of the H.G. Wells science fiction novel by the same name, which had been published in 1898.

More than half of the first part of the 60-minute broadcast consisted of realistic-sounding, yet fictional radio news bulletins and on-the-scene remote broadcasts from fictional news reporters. Although the beginning of the broadcast made it clear that the program was simply a dramatization, many people had begun listening to the program well after the program had begun. Hence, some of these people were in a panic, seriously thinking that the radio news bulletins were real, and that spaceships and beings from the Planet Mars had actually invaded the tiny hamlet of Grover's Mill, New Jersey, on their way to New York City.

Although people in New Jersey and New York were particularly alarmed, the nationwide broadcast caused fear from coast-to-coast. The Associated Press news wire service reported:

* Pittsburgh: A man returned home during the broadcast to find his wife about to commit suicide by poison. She reportedly screamed, referring to the supposed events in New Jersey: "I'd rather die this way than like that."

* San Francisco: Hundreds of telephone calls to police and newspapers came from men wanting to volunteer to help stop the invasion from Mars.

* Providence: The telephone switchboard of the Providence Journal was swamped with calls from hysterical and weeping women asking about the massacre. Some urged the electric company to turn off all city lights so the city would be safe from the enemy.

* Kansas City: One motorist, who had filled his automobile with gasoline and readied his entire family to leave, called asking "Where is it safe?"

The fake news reports used by the radio drama were similar to on-the-spot radio news reports that had been recently heard by the public, such as the famous radio report of Herbert Morrison (who, in 1958, became the first News Director of WTAE-TV 4 in Pittsburgh), then a reporter for Chicago radio station WLS-AM on the destruction of the Hindenburg Airship, in Lakehurst, New Jersey on 1937 May 6. The War of the Worlds 1938 dramatization mimiced another CBS Radio program, a news documentary series called The March of Time, which combined real news events with reenactments. Combined with real news of the era, that seemed to show that world events could be leading to another war in Europe, the American public at that time was on-edge.

In the days following the 1938 broadcast, public outrage regarding the hoax led to an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); however, the FCC did not sanction the CBS network in any way. Several people tried suing CBS for "mental anguish" and "personal injury"; all lawsuits were dismissed, except for one case where the network did reimburse a Massachusetts man for shoe money he had used to escape from the Martians.

German dictator Adolf Hitler described the panic brought on by the program as "evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy."

At the age of 23, the notoriety from this broadcast made the name of the young dramatist, Orson Welles, a household-word. Three years later, Orson Welles would produce and star in the landmark movie, Citizen Kane.

Over the years, many radio stations have replayed the original 1938 broadcast, usually around Halloween. During the Summer months in the 1970s, the program was replayed twice each Summer on a rather unique educational radio station, operated by campers at a Summer camp near White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia (the author, Glenn A. Walsh, was a camp counselor and General Manager of this radio station).

Additionally, several other radio stations, and one American television network, broadcast remakes of the original broadcast, updating it to modern broadcast standards so it did sound like a real news broadcast. Some of these broadcasts were so realistic, such as one in South America, that it created a riot when the people realized it was a hoax! Several years ago, there was also a television movie that portrayed the 1938 broadcast.

This year, in commemoration of the radio program's 75th anniversary, Pittsburgh public news radio station WESA-FM 90.5 plans to air a remake of the broadcast, having the Martian invasion set in Downtown Pittsburgh in 1938. This remake will air on WESA-FM on Wednesday evening at 9:00 p.m. EDT (Note: Since Daylight Saving Time was not observed in 1938, this will be exactly 75 years since the first broadcast on the CBS Radio Network at 8:00 p.m. EST on 1938 October 30). The previous hour (starting at 8:00 p.m. EDT), WESA-FM's public affairs program, Essential Pittsburgh (heard weekdays at 12:00 Noon and repeated at 8:00 p.m., and available on-demand on the < wesa.fm > web site), will air highlights of the original 1938 radio broadcast (this highlight program will be heard on October 30 at both 12:00 Noon and 8:00 p.m.).

More on "The War of the Worlds" radio broadcast:
Link >>> http://johnbrashear.tripod.com/wlcr.html#warofworlds

Related Blog Post ---

'War of the World's' Panic Broadcast Remembered by NJ Woman (2014 Oct. 30):

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2014/10/war-of-worlds-panic-broadcast.html 


Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.

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Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
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