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Orson Welles’ War Of The Worlds Terrified A Nation: Today In Science & Science Fiction

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WellesIt’s nearly Halloween, so people are busy picking out last-minute costumes, buying candy to hand out to trick-or-treaters, or maybe just planning the perfect spooky double feature to watch with your favorite people. If you’re short on Halloween ideas, however, we’ve got your back. Why not listen to Orson Welles’ infamous War of the Worlds broadcast, which first aired on this date in 1938.

Consider it a predecessor of the whole “found footage” genre. Welles’ War of the Worlds radio drama presented itself as a real news broadcast recounting unbelievable events: the arrival of a Martian invasion of Earth. It started out as a music broadcast, then a newscaster kept interrupting with increasingly fantastic reports of events, beginning with explosions observed on Mars and then leading to a full-on alien attack.

Although the broadcast did explain that it was a dramatization as it began, History.com explains that “most of these Americans were listening to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy ‘Charlie McCarthy’ on NBC and only turned to CBS at 8:12 p.m….By then, the story of the Martian invasion was well underway.” As word of the panic the program was causing spread, Welles eventually interrupted the broadcast to clarify that it was fiction, hopefully before too many people had drained their savings to build doomsday bunkers.