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"Did Orson Welles's Famous Mars Radio Show Really..." Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP26 Sep 2017 3:47 p.m. PST

…Set Off a Nation-wide Panic?

""On October 30, 1938, America panicked. Millions throughout the United States thought that the invasion from Mars had begun and panic gripped the nation." So says a press release that just crossed my desk from Brantford's Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts, which will be recreating this historic radio play this Wednesday through Friday.

Indeed, when it comes to falling for a story that is truly out of this world, we are constantly reminded of Welles' infamous radio hoax that, we are still told every year, supposedly convinced an entire United States populace that the Martians were invading the United States, or to be precise, New Jersey. Here's a quick recap of how it happened:

It was on the night of Oct. 30, 1938, that a series of short, increasingly ominous news bulletins kept breaking into a live CBS broadcast of the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra. In the first bulletin, an Intercontinental Radio News reporter tersely announced that astronomers had detected enormous blue flames shooting from the planet Mars. Next the music was stopped to announce that a meteor had just crashed into the Earth near Grovers Mills, N.J.

Then the radio reporter broke in again to say it was a space ship and not a meteor that had crashed in New Jersey and that a space creatures complete with tentacles had emerged alive from the wreckage. Soon the space monsters were using a giant three-legged armoured mobile vehicle to tromp across New Jersey using their space guns to blast everything in their path with death rays. The now-marauding Martians were also killing the local population with clouds of black gas against which even the most sophisticated gas masks proved useless.

By now radio listeners were starting to panic, hiding in their boarded up basements or packing the wife and kids and a few possessions into the family car to attempt to escape before the spacemen caught them. Those who panicked were people who had tuned in late and had not heard any of the four separate announcements during the series of bulletins that what was being broadcast was a radio play adaptation of H.G. Wells' The War Of The Worlds, performed as one of the weekly broadcasts by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre.

So the people of the U.S.A. had fallen for a hoax but the report of the spread of panic is something of a hoax itself.

Prankster lore has it that six million people heard the broadcast and of those, fully one quarter (1.5 million) fled or hid in panic. Alex Boese of the Museum of Hoaxes says that "more recent research suggests that the actual number (of people who actually panicked) is probably far lower. In fact, the idea that the broadcast touched off a huge national scare is probably more of a hoax than the broadcast itself."

The Toronto Star of Oct. 31, 1938 carried front page news of the hoax but the amount of panic described in the Star is hardly the stuff of millions running for their lives.

"Until 1 a.m. (CBS's) switchboards were jammed with indignant listeners, some threatening to sue," the Star reported. The report put the number of panicked listeners as being a few thousand and as for those stories of grievous injury caused by the hoax, about the worst the 1938 Star could come up with was: "One woman said she had collided with furniture in her haste to get into the street, blackening both her eyes." CBS "received many phonecalls about the broadcast but only 10 telegrams, all protesting it, this afternoon," the Star revealed.

Two black eyes and 10 pissy telegrams! Does this sound like mass hysteria to you? Alas, history has preserved in amber the perception that The War Of The Worlds broadcast was the epitome of mass hysteria"

From Toronto Star (Oct. 27, 2003)


Personal logo Cacique Caribe Supporting Member of TMP26 Sep 2017 4:30 p.m. PST

If the media says it set off a panic, then it must be true!

PS. Just like their famous "year if the shark" drama.

Major General Stanley26 Sep 2017 6:02 p.m. PST

They replayed it the night that Apollo XI landed on the moon. I was in the backseat of the car listening to it. I was about 10. It had me on edge for quite a while until I figured it out, but adults falling for it…

Personal logo Virtualscratchbuilder Supporting Member of TMP Fezian26 Sep 2017 6:57 p.m. PST

In the 1960's and 70's WKBW radio in Buffalo NY did its own dramatization of War of the Worlds with cylinders landing on Grand Island. Despite being prefaced at every commercial with "this is a dramatization" it still scared a lot of people every time they aired it.

Major Mike26 Sep 2017 8:16 p.m. PST

Remember back in the late 60's the Orson Wells broadcast was played again on local radio in the Los Angeles area. As a kid, even though I knew it was fake, still gave me the willy's. It's hard for todays young people with their instant gratification iphone's and such to comprehend the importance of radio back in the golden age. I have no doubt it caused consternation among those that missed the opening of the show to hear the premise of the "play".

Zephyr126 Sep 2017 8:54 p.m. PST

But, the Martians really did land in New Jersey. And that was their doom… evil grin

Personal logo Cacique Caribe Supporting Member of TMP27 Sep 2017 2:22 a.m. PST

Lol. Are you suggesting that there are more microbes in New Jersey than among the rest of us?


Dynaman878927 Sep 2017 3:59 a.m. PST

> Two black eyes and 10 pissy telegrams! Does this sound like mass hysteria to you?

No, it sounds more like cherry picked facts. Since I'm not going to bother to look up anything on it however…

Old Wolfman27 Sep 2017 7:32 a.m. PST

My dad was just 10 y/o when the show was first aired. Heard it from the get-go,and knew it was just a radio play as did the rest of the family. The fact that his dad was a cop helped too. But he did tell me that that same evening,he saw an aurora borealis in the sky in the area(Hamilton,OH). Also,some years earlier,ca. mid-1920's,the BBC had broadcast a play with a similar storyline and structure,of a radical insurrection in London.

Personal logo Cacique Caribe Supporting Member of TMP27 Sep 2017 9:01 a.m. PST

Wolfman: "he saw an aurora borealis in the sky in the area(Hamilton,OH)"

Wow! Please tell me more! How many times has that ever happened there.


Cyrus the Great27 Sep 2017 9:29 a.m. PST

They landed in Grovers Mills, New Jersey. Look at all the persons with the first name of John with consecutive social security numbers.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP27 Sep 2017 10:28 a.m. PST



Legion 427 Sep 2017 11:30 a.m. PST

I remember hearing about this from a number of sources. Including the History Chan., etc.

I think it was a good Halloween prank. A great idea for a show by Wells, etc. I do remember hearing the actual broadcast read on TV a couple of times. Was "intrigued" to see even back then … how did the Army get there as soon as they did ? That should have been an indicator it was a prank !

Even today, unless they landed next to a military post/base, etc. It would take a little time to get the troops moving to the site(s). Even if the DRF forces were on "Green Ram", etc., Standing By … evil grin

Old Wolfman29 Sep 2017 7:16 a.m. PST

My dad told me it lent a type of realism to what was playing on the radio that night,to a kid just a week shy of his 10th birthday, I'd have have been awestruck too. Whether it actually was an aurora borealis or some other atmospheric phenom that October 30th 1938 in the evening skies over Butler County,Ohio,seeing that in conjunction to hearing about a supposed alien attack on the East Coast,mind blowing.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member30 Sep 2017 4:04 a.m. PST

They landed in Grovers Mills, New Jersey. Look at all the persons with the first name of John with consecutive social security numbers.

And then, a mere 60 years later, the Sopranos appear……

Just sayin'.

Legion 430 Sep 2017 6:46 a.m. PST

Hmmm ? Never thought about that … huh?


Even if the DRF forces were on "Green Ram", etc., Standing By … evil grin
That should be "Green Ramp" … darn auto-correct !!!!

14Bore30 Sep 2017 8:00 a.m. PST

Yes it did, my grandparents were big fans of this radio show but that night they were at a friend's house visiting and during the show were traveling back to their house ( walking) and missed the show.

flooglestreet Inactive Member30 Sep 2017 9:49 p.m. PST

My dad says a lot of people were panicked by the broadcast, but refused to say he was panicked by the broadcast. I suspect he was. Years later, he came back into the house from plowing and someone told him the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. He dismissed it as another fake radio broadcast.

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