Orson Welles- “The War of The Worlds, 1938″


After reading extensively about this radio broadcast in other American Literature course, as well as in other history courses I felt compelled to finally listen to it myself to see what the fuss was all about. What radio broadcast I’m talking about is, Orson Welles 1938 production of H G Wells 1898 novel “The War of the Worlds”. The broadcast was aired as a Halloween special for the Mercury Theater on the Air.  Orson Welles, as well as Frank Readick, Kenny Delmar, and Ray Collins all starred on the Halloween broadcast- which was particularly interesting because I was always given the impression that it was just Welles narrating the novel. However, the entire 58-62 minutes consisted of these “journalists” interrupting one another giving their interpretations as to what was happening “where they were” at the time of the attack. I can now understand why there was such confusion and even fear for listeners who may have tuned in mid broadcast. I also read that the Mercury Theater on the Air was known for playing music, so it would be common for listens to just tune in at any times in hopes of hearing some music. Instead they would have been alarmed to hear this schizophrenic “news broadcasting” of aliens attacking Earth.

war-of-the-worlds-by-orson-wellesListening to it myself, I was obviously not used to the crackling of the radio, which made me have to listen closer to hear what the men were saying during the broadcast. I was also impressed as to how convincing they seemed, given that as listeners you could only hear what was happening, but all the interruptions and acting gave a sense of realism. What added to this realism was the fact that unlike other broadcasts, there were no commercials. After being announced in the very beginning, the show ran right through the hour long program. This made it seem like the breaking news of today, where they will cut commercials or give less commercials when something important is happening.  Though I know this was just a reading from H G Wells’ book, I found it entirely understandable for the confusion that people may have felt while tuning in. Other than the beginning and the end of the broadcast, it would have been difficult to tell, unless you were familiar with the book “The War of the Worlds” to know what was going on.


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