This is a Test: War of the Worlds
Tonight is the anniversary of the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast, directed by Orson Welles. Has society learned its lesson? In media, what is true does not matter. What people believe does.
Dear Friend and Reader:
For his weekly program on Halloween eve of 1938, a young Orson Welles tried something new. For some months, his Mercury Theater on the Air had run on Columbia Broadcasting System (the CBS Radio Network) with a small listenership. On the evening of Oct. 30, they decided to try doing a science fiction program.
They had acquired the rights to a short novel written by the British sci-fi author H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds. (Wells and Welles were both of English descent, both had George in their name, but they were not related.) That story, about an invasion from Mars, had been published 40 years earlier, in 1898. It was an old and well-known work at the time, read by many children and recreated in comic books.
Welles, however, thought the story made a boring script, so his writers updated it into a series of spot-news reports about an invasion from Mars that cut into a seemingly ordinary dance music program. This was a new technique at the time, the earliest version of the "breaking news" stripe at the bottom of the CNN screen: interrupting regular programming for something more important.
At the beginning of the program an announcer said clearly that the show would be a dramatization of the novel. Then at about 40 minutes, an announcer again said it was a dramatization, and then finally at the end Welles said it was a Halloween prank. But that did not matter; the genie was out of the bottle.
Most people know the history: some listeners panicked, thinking it was an actual invasion from Mars and war with Martian robots. Others thought some other kind of air invasion had happened, having missed the bits about Mars. It's true that a good few people fell for the dramatization and freaked out. I heard a personal story about someone whose relative was in labor in a Manhattan hospital that night, and was abandoned by the maternity nurses who decided to save themselves and left the ward.
Don’t miss the video introduction to the Inner Space annual edition, and we have just added a video introduction to Saturn in Pisces. Proceeds sponsor Chiron Return and Planet Waves FM.