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October 30, 1938: 'The War of the Worlds' aired on CBS

October 30, 1938: On this date, H.G. Well's The War of the World was shown on The Mercury Theater on the Air at 8 p.m.  The radio adaptation of this novel made the little known actor and filmmaker Orson Welles famous. He was known previously for providing the voice for title character of The Shadow radio show.

The show was delivered in news bulletin form.  Due to the manner in which the episode was delivered, some listeners, who failed to hear the introduction, mistakenly thought that it was a real report of an alien invasion. Because of this, in 1975, a docudrama based on those events was made.  It was entitled The Night That Panicked America.


  1. I listen to it every year on Halloween. My dad always told me about hearing it when it aired.... He was 14.... he hid under his bed...

  2. People today laugh at how people freaked out over this but remember, it was a simpler time. Plus if you get past the opening credits, you would really think that at something was going on. My favorite part of this story is the press conference Orson Welles had the the next day and he had a look on his face like "Gee, I had no idea it would cause this kind of excitement." He was so full of baloney, he knew exactly what he was doing LOL.

    Given there are people freaking out over the end of the Mayan calendar, I'm not sure we have a high ground to stand on!

  3. I used to think it was unbelievable that folks would react like that, until I heard recordings of actual breaking news bulletins at the time. Wow! It really does sound legit!

    today with the mass media intrustion, How one news agency just copies the work of someone else, without the need of reporters, such a story can and will happen. Just create a story for one reporter and soon many others will follow.

    My mother listened to the live broadcast - but she heard it from the beginning so didn't freak out. It would be fun to play it tonight just for chuckles. Especially if you have a replica radio.

  4. the popular show, charlie mccarthy, came on and listeners heard the monologue. when they announced the guest was a male opera singer, people switched stations and missed the opening of war of the worlds.

    After the impact of that show, advertising dollars scrambled to radio to bank roll the "golden age" of the forties. Ad agencies learned they could do more than just sell products but mold and manipulate demand.

    A station in Buffalo, New York did a version using a DJ playing top 40 with their newsroom breaking in with bulletins. I think it aired in 1971.

  5. Years back (1974?) I had the pleasure of working for Harold Dorschug, then Director of Engineering for CBS WTIC in Hartford. We used to chat a lot, and in one afternoon discussion over coffee he talked of being on duty at CBS Radio Master Control on the evening the War of the Worlds aired. Since the play originated in another studio, MCR was an island of calm with all hell breaking loose around it. To be a fly on the wall, sigh . . .


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