October 30th marks the 70th anniversary of the CBS radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ War of The Worlds, as adapted by Howard Koch and the Mercury Theatre on the Air under the direction of Orson Welles. Presented in the format of a news broadcast, the dramatization created mass panic among listeners, who accepted the description of a Martian invasion as an actual event under way. In the controversy that ensued, Welles maintained that he had no intention of causing panic and that he had intended the dramatization as nothing more than a Halloween offering. I am posting the entire original recording broken into three separate mp3 segments below. Total running time is 57 minutes 36 seconds. Each mp3 may take a few seconds to begin playing. Please be patient.
Orson Welles’ Iconic ‘War of the Worlds’
Marks 70th Anniversary
on Thursday, October 30
NEW YORK, Oct 29, 2008 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — Famous Radio Broadcast Created Nationwide Panic and Helped to Establish Radio
Tomorrow marks the 70th Anniversary of “War of the Worlds,” the groundbreaking radio broadcast that terrified millions of Americans who thought that the fictional audio play was real and Martians were actually landing in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey.
The original hour-long broadcast, which aired on the eve of Halloween, October 30, 1938, was part of CBS’s Mercury Theatre On the Air, directed and narrated by Orson Welles, adapted from the H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds, with the audio play written by Howard Koch (writer of Casablanca). It simulated a live news report of a Martian invasion with a series of realistic newscasts seeming to interrupt regularly scheduled programming.
According to Ron Simon, Curator of Radio and Television, Paley Center for Media: “Blurring reality and fiction so seamlessly, Orson Welles established himself as a major artist, and helped to legitimize radio as an artistic medium and major force in American culture.”
As part of the program, a fictional CBS news reporter tracks the Martians progress until he himself keels over …
“Five great machines … They rise like a line of new towers on the city’s west side … Now they’re lifting their metal hands. This is the end now. Smoke comes out … black smoke, drifting over the city. People in the streets see it now. They’re running towards the East River … thousands of them, dropping in like rats. Now the smoke’s spreading faster. It’s reached Times Square. People are trying to run away from it, but it’s no use. They’re falling like flies. Now the smoke’s crossing Sixth Avenue … Fifth Avenue … a… a hundred yards away … it’s fifty feet …”
The broadcast is said to have been heard by over 6 million people that night. According to historians, various factors contributed to the widespread reaction: Tensions were running high leading to World War II, the convincing natural delivery of the cast, long stretches of commercial free airplay and only three disclaimers during the broadcast clarifying its fictional nature. As a result, the show ignited a reaction of fear and confusion among listeners across the country. News reports cited people fleeing their homes, and police lines flooded with listeners trying to determine the validity of the Martian invasion.
The broadcast, considered one of the great moments in media history, continues to live-on through re-airings, live re-enactments and adaptations all over the world, introducing a new generation to the power of radio.