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Who Knew Radio Could Be This Scary?

October 31, 2018

From The HFS Promotions Department

It's hard to imagine now the shock and terror that a radio broadcast caused, 80 years ago.    Tell the story to a teenager today, and they'll stare at you with a look of disbelief, thinking you are making up a story, and not a good one at that.  They may not even believe that families used to sit together in the living room, listening to live dramas on the radio.   But for millions of Americans listening to the October 31, 1938 Columbia Broadcasting System's production  of "Mercury Theatre On The Air," starring Orson Wells,  Earth's invasion by Martians seemed all too real.   

Over time, a few  broadcast historians have downplayed the effect the radio drama had on the masses.  But most accounts agree-- many Americans panicked, and although it may not have necessarily been the intention of the show to frighten listeners, October 31, 1938 may have been the scariest night of their lives. And newspapers throughout the country agreed, with bold headlines the next morning about the panic in America the night before.

Here is a replay of that infamous broadcast.  The very beginning identifies it as a radio play, but if you missed that announcement, and tuned in during the show, you may have thought it sounded very real.  At the end, Orson Wells spoke directly to his audience, assuring them that War of the Worlds has "no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be."  You can hear that announcement at about 57:40 into the hour-long broadcast-- it's a classic ending to what was-- and still is-- an amazing program and an unforgettable night!