Orson Welles' The War of the Worlds

It’s the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Martian invasion on Earth — well, at least on radio. On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles had listeners cowering beside their radios as his Halloween broadcast of “War of the Worlds” convinced them a Martian attack on Earth was underway.

Though the show began at 8 p.m. with a short introduction to Welles’ adaptation of H.G. Well’s sci-fi classic, listeners only began to tune in minutes later after the more popular Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy program had ended. Listeners tuned in to hear dance music at “the Merdian Room in the Hotel Park Plaza” before they were interrupted by a news bulletin announcing that a large meteor had crashed in New Jersey. An announcer reported that a Martian had emerged from the cylindrical meteorite.

Shocked audiences heard highly realistic news announcements detailing the gruesome appearance of the landed Martian and its use of “Heat-Rays” on the gathering crowd. Soon, Chicago and St. Louis were reported to be under attack and thousands were attempting to flee the Martian invasion. Realistic details like the broadcaster’s difficulty determining the number of casualties and speculations about Martian technology confused listeners who thought they were listening to real news coverage.

The haunting news section ended with the radio operator calling “Isn’t there anyone on the air? Isn’t there… anyone?” With all the anxiety prior to World War II, panicked listeners across the Northeastern United States and Canada fled their homes, calling news networks and newspapers to confirm the attack.

Orson Welles’ terrifying broadcast brought him into the spotlight as a pioneering director, a reputation he would solidify with films like Citizen Kane.