• Matt


Updated: Apr 21



The War of the Worlds, written by H.G. Wells (1898) has always been a favorite alien invasion story and has seen so many adaptations over the years, from T.V. shows and drama's, films, and even a musical. But lets talk about that infamous adaptation, the radio broadcast that panicked America, directed and narrated by actor and future filmmaker Orson Welles. The show was the 17th episode of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) Radio series The Mercury Theatre on the Air, and was broadcast at 8pm on Sunday, October 30, 1938 as part of a live Halloween episode. The H.G. Wells original novel tells the story of a Martian invasion of Earth set in the outskirts of London, England, but was adapted to radio by Howard Koch, who changed the setting from 19th century England to the then modern day United States, with the landing site of the first Martian cylinder changed to Grover's Mill, a small village in West Winsor Township of New jersey.

The broadcast was an hour long and the format consisted of multiple live news bulletins which interrupted the program of dance music from Ramon Raquello and his orchestra. The skit involved on the scene reporters and scientific bodies who reported on the events of the Martian cylinder that had landed in Grovers Mill. The Martians then attack and destroy the New Jersey State Militia and then go on to attack other cities throughout the country, including New York. Despite periodic announcements that the show was a fictional performance, many listeners believed that the events were actually happening.

The shows second part of the broadcast was a monologue by Welles explaining the aftermath of destruction and finally that the Martians had been killed, by "putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared".

To end the show, Welles went back to his normal persona and announced that the broadcast was a Halloween joke, stating...

"This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that The War of The Worlds has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be. The Mercury Theatre’s own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying Boo! Starting now, we couldn’t soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night. . . so we did the best next thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the C. B. S. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn’t mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business. So goodbye everybody, and remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody’s there, that was no Martian. . .it’s Hallowe’en."

Approximately six million people are believed to have heard the broadcast and there are conflicting reports on the number of people that actually panicked. The front page of the New York Times the next day had the headline "Radio Listeners in Panic Taking War Drama as Fact". The article stated:

  • Thousands of people called the police, newspapers and radio stations within the United States and Canada seeking advice on protective measures.

  • In Newark, in a single block at Heddon Terrace, more than twenty families rushed out of their houses with handkerchiefs and towels over their faces.

  • In Indianapolis a woman ran into a church screaming "New York destroyed, it's the end of the world. You might as well go home to die. I just heard it on the radio."

  • Legend also has it that some local residents in Grovers Mill opened fire on a water tower thinking it was a Martian (we tried looking for the water tower but it is on private land and obscured by trees).

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