30th October 1938 – Orson Welles broadcasts a realistic adaptation of ‘War of the Worlds’ on the air, causing panic across the United States

Memorable remains the transmission that aired on October 30, 1938, during which the 23-year-old Welles interpreted a radio adaptation written by Howard E. Koch of The War of the Worlds, a science fiction novel by H. G. Wells; the program caused panic in much of the United States, as many radio listeners believed that Earth was indeed being invaded by a warlike Martian fleet.

Welles knew that CBS was broadcasting on frequencies to those of the most followed NBC, where at the same time they broadcast the popular broadcasts of comedian and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his puppet Charlie McCarthy, but he also knew that Bergen, in a moment very precise about his transmission, he always broadcast a musical break during which the audience tended to change station: it was at that moment that Welles decided to land his Martians far away. The choice proved effective as the United States plunged into chaos. According to the testimony of many collaborators, including personal assistant Alland, CBS executive Davison Taylor swooped into the recording room after 15 minutes and exclaimed to Welles, “By God, stop this like this! People out there are. gone mad!”. Shortly after Welles replied to the CBS General Paley (down in slippers and I confess), who told him about the transmission: “Stop? Why? They must be afraid, let me continue to have!”, Only to declare the opposite in all subsequent interviews. To be sure, Welles thought the adaptation boring, and not bought wanted to propose it, but it was in use in the absence of other interesting material available.

Believing that the events described in the broadcast to be authentic, the listeners of the program panicked, not realizing that it was actually a simple radio show. The story narrated in the novel was interpreted by Welles as a real commentary, with the sole intent of public engaging for the. The adaptation of the novel in fact simulated a special news program, which at times was inserted above the other programs of the schedule, to provide updates on the landing of Martian spaceships in Grovers Mill (New Jersey). The result was all too realistic and went beyond the author’s expectations. The story turned into a huge advertising return for Welles, so much so that the RKO came forward offering him a contract for the making of three films in Hollywood.


4 thoughts on “30th October 1938 – Orson Welles broadcasts a realistic adaptation of ‘War of the Worlds’ on the air, causing panic across the United States

  1. One of the earliest apocalyptic presentations to a mass audience. More to come. Some to inure us to the End of the Age, some to inform us.

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