War of the Worlds, Mercury Theater of the Air, 1938
Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic War of the Worlds is itself a classic. The program is legendary for the panic it caused in some audience members when it originally aired on October 30, 1938. Welles played the first half of the story as realistic newscasts – “regular programming” is interrupted with convincing news of invading aliens. The drama then switches point of view to Welles’ main character, who wanders about the rubble-strewn streets looking for answers.
The story of the controversy caused by the broadcast is as interesting as the broadcast itself. A national debate ensued about whether or not to regulate radio drama in all sorts of different ways. It’s main effect was to illustrate that people can’t believe everything they hear, not unlike today’s graphics technology has proved that we can’t believe everything we see.
The quality of the script and the convincing performances of Orson Welles and the actor who, as a newscaster, described the emergence of the Martians from a crater left when they landed in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, make this one of my all-time favorite audio dramas.
This recording is available from many different sources – my copy was published by Radio Spirits.