War of the Worlds Radio Drama
October 30, 1938
It was eight o'clock on October 30, 1938, Halloween Eve, when CBS broadcast Orson Welles with the Mercury Theater on the Air and their updated version of H.G. Wells' science fiction novel The War of the Worlds. At the time, Mercury Theater on the Air was not a very popular radio program. Most people listened to The Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show, which featured a ventriloquist and his dummy. But similar to the way people flip channels with a remote control during a lull in the action of a television program, back then people would spin the radio dial to find something more interesting. It is speculated that in this manner a large number of people tuned in to The War of the Worlds late, and did not hear Orson Welles introduce the show. These people thought they were listening to actual news bulletins interrupting a music program, but the music and the bulletins were actually part of The War of the Worlds.
The listeners were being entertained by Ramon Raquello and his orchestra when the show was interrupted by a special report from Intercontinental Radio News. The bulletin was to let people know that scientists had noticed explosions on the surface of Mars, and that something was flying towards the earth at an incredible speed. After the announcement the music began again. Then another news report came on. This time to inform the audience that a huge, flaming object, believed to be a meteorite had fallen to earth at Grovers Mill.
At Grovers Mill it was realized that the object was not a meteorite. Eventually, a huge creature with a drooling V-shaped mouth emerged from the object, zapped the people dead, and torched the field with its heat-ray. An army of police and soldiers numbering around seven thousand and armed with machine guns and rifles, surrounded the creature, but all except one hundred and twenty were killed.
Reports poured in of more sightings of Martian spaceships. New York, Buffalo, Chicago and St. Louis were all invaded. The Martians destroyed communication links, railroads and bridges. Poisonous clouds of black smoke drifted everywhere. People were dying wherever the Martians landed. The country seemed lost. The War of the Worlds broadcast terrified people from coast to coast. Families fled their homes, covering their mouths with handkerchiefs trying not to breathe the harmful black gas. People packed into churches. Roads leading out of cities were jammed with cars. People across the nation thought they were going to die. It is estimated that over six million people listened to that broadcast, and close to two million thought it was a news bulletin.