War of the Worlds: The Panic Broadcast
For young people living in the time of the world wide web and the 24 hour news culture, it can be hard to appreciate the reality of a time when newspapers and radio broadcasts were the only official sources for news, but that was the situation in 1938. Television as we know it did not yet exist, and families would gather around their radios after dinner to enjoy music, or a live radio play.
Nearly 80 years ago, on October 30th, 1938, thousands of households did just that… after clearing the dinner table, they turned on their radios and started twisting the dial, surfing for entertainment, just like we do with television today. Unbeknownst to many, they had missed a disclaimer at the beginning of a broadcast — War of the Worlds was just a radio play, not the real news broadcast that it was designed to sound like. War with Germany was on the horizon, fears of technological inferiority were real, and this broadcast was terrifying. Invaders from Mars were about to conquer the planet.
There are those who try to downplay the “Panic Broadcast” today, even going so far as to brand it a myth. Perhaps those people, and those who can’t appreciate the power of auditory medium as the powerful influence it was, are one and the same. For the rest of us, here is the entire, uncut broadcast from a radio anthology series called The Mercury Theater on the Air — like the Twilight Zone of the day. Orson Welles and his crew of about twenty musicians, actors, and technicians performed a play, live in the studio, but listeners heard a very real, and very terrifying series of events unfold. Turn down the lights, put yourself in the time of radio, when you couldn’t simply turn on the TV or visit a website for information, and imagine what it was like almost 80 years ago, during The War of the Worlds.
Troy Larson is a father, author, and photographer originally from Minot, North Dakota, now residing in Fargo.