The War of the Worlds was a Halloween episode of the radio series The Mercury Theatre on the Air. This production was directed and narrated by Orson Welles as an adaptation of H. G. Wells's novel The War of the Worlds (1898). It was performed and broadcast live at 8 pm ET on October 30, 1938 over the CBS Radio Network. The episode is famous for inciting a panic by convincing some members of the listening audience that a Martian invasion was taking place.
The episode begins with an introductory monologue based closely on the opening of the original novel, after which the program takes on the format of an evening of typical radio programming being periodically interrupted by news bulletins. The first few bulletins interrupt a program of live music and are relatively calm reports of unusual explosions on Mars followed by a seemingly unrelated report of an unknown object falling on a farm in Grover's Mill, New Jersey.
The crisis escalates dramatically when a correspondent reporting live from Grovers Mill describes creatures emerging from what is evidently an alien spacecraft. When local officials approach the aliens waving a flag of truce, the "monsters" respond by incinerating them and others nearby with a heat ray which the on-scene reporter describes in a panic until the audio feed abruptly goes dead. This is followed by a rapid series of news updates detailing the beginning of a devastating alien invasion and the military's futile efforts to stop it. The first portion of the episode climaxes with another live report from the rooftop of a Manhattan radio station.
The correspondent describes crowds fleeing clouds of poison smoke released by giant Martian "war machines" and "dropping like flies" as the gas approaches his location. Eventually he coughs and falls silent, and a lone ham radio operator asks, "Is there anyone on the air? Isn't there... anyone?" with no response. The program takes its first break thirty minutes after Welles's introduction.The second portion of the show shifts to a conventional radio drama format that follows a survivor (played by Welles) dealing with the aftermath of the invasion and the ongoing Martian occupation of Earth. The final segment lasts for about sixteen minutes, and like the original novel, concludes with the revelation that the Martians have been defeated by microbes rather than by humans. The broadcast ends with a brief "out of character" announcement by Welles in which he compares the show to "dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying 'boo!'"
If you want to hear the broadcast, here's the link. And if you're interested in a more up to date version, check out War of the Worlds on Amazon Prime, an excellent adaptation that will keep you on the edge of your seat, complete with those awful robot dogs.
Have you ever read War of the Worlds or seen the series on Amazon? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!