The War of the Worlds (radio drama)

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For the 1968 remake, see The War of the Worlds (radio 1968).
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The War of the Worlds
Orson Welles 1937.jpg
Orson Welles in 1937
Genre Radio drama
Running time 62 minutes
Home station CBS Radio
Host(s) The Mercury Theatre on the Air
Announcer Dan Seymour
Director(s) Orson Welles
Producer(s) John Houseman
Orson Welles
Exec. producer(s) Davidson Taylor (for CBS)
Narrated by Orson Welles
Recording studio Columbia Broadcasting Building, 485 Madison Avenue, New York
Air dates since October 30, 1938 (1938-10-30)
Opening theme Piano Concerto No. 1, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

The War of the Worlds is an episode of the American radio drama anthology series The Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was performed as a Halloween episode of the series on October 30, 1938, and aired over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. Directed and narrated by actor and future filmmaker Orson Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H. G. Wells's novel The War of the Worlds (1898). It became famous for causing mass panic, although the extent of this panic is debated.[1]

The first two thirds of the 62-minute broadcast were presented as a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested to some listeners that an actual alien invasion by Martians was currently in progress. Compounding the issue was the fact that the Mercury Theatre on the Air was a sustaining show (it ran without commercial breaks), adding to the program's realism, and that others were primarily listening to Edgar Bergen and only tuned in to the show during a musical interlude, thereby missing the introduction that proved the show was a drama.[1]

In the days following the adaptation, there was widespread outrage in the media.[2] The program's news-bulletin format was described as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers (which had lost advertising revenue to radio) and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast and calls for regulation by the Federal Communications Commission.[1] Despite these complaints—or perhaps in part because of them—the episode secured Welles's fame as a dramatist.


H. G. Wells's original novel relates the story of an alien invasion of Earth. The radio play's story was adapted by Howard Koch. The setting was switched from 19th-century England to contemporary Grover's Mill, an unincorporated village in West Windsor Township, New Jersey in the United States. The program's format was a (simulated) live newscast of developing events. To this end, Welles played recordings of Herbert Morrison's radio reports of the Hindenburg disaster for actor Frank Readick and the rest of the cast, to demonstrate the mood he wanted.

The broadcast employed techniques similar to those of The March of Time, the CBS news documentary and dramatization radio series.[3] Welles was a member of the program's regular cast, having first performed on The March of Time in March 1935.[4]:74, 333 The Mercury Theatre on the Air and The March of Time shared many cast members, as well as sound effects chief Ora D. Nichols.

During preproduction, CBS's censors said the script was "too realistic" and insisted on 28 changes. Most were the names of real places, institutions and officials. Welles obliged, but he and Koch used similar-sounding terms like "Princeton Observatory" for "Princeton University" and the "Government Weather Bureau" for the United States Weather Bureau.[5]

The first two-thirds of the 60 minute play was a contemporary retelling of events of the novel, presented as news bulletins interrupting another programme. This approach was similar to Ronald Knox's satirical newscast of a riot overtaking London broadcast by the BBC in 1926, which may have influenced Welles.[6] A 1927 drama aired by Adelaide station 5CL depicted an invasion of Australia via the same techniques and inspired reactions similar to those of the Welles broadcast.[7]

Welles had been influenced by the Archibald MacLeish dramas The Fall of the City and Air Raid, the former of which had used Welles himself in the role of a live radio news reporter. However, the approach had never been taken with as much continued verisimilitude, and the innovative format has been cited[by whom?] as a key factor in the confusion that followed.

Plot summary[edit]

The program, broadcast from the 20th floor at 485 Madison Avenue in New York City, starts with an introduction from the novel, describing the intentions of the aliens and noting that the adaptation is set in 1939, a year ahead of the broadcast date.[8] The program continues with a weather report and an ordinary dance band remote featuring "Ramon Raquello and His Orchestra" (actually the CBS orchestra under the direction of Bernard Herrmann), interrupted by news flashes about strange explosions on Mars. Welles makes his first appearance as the (fictional) famous astronomer and Princeton professor Richard Pierson, who dismisses speculation about life on Mars.

The news grows more frequent and increasingly ominous as a cylindrical meteorite lands in Grover's Mill, New Jersey. A crowd gathers at the site. Reporter Carl Phillips (Readick) relates the events. The cylinder unscrews, and onlookers catch a glimpse of a tentacled, pulsating, barely mobile Martian inside before it incinerates the crowd with Heat-Rays. Phillips's shouts about incoming flames are cut off in mid-sentence. (Later surveys indicate that many listeners heard only this portion of the show before contacting neighbors or family to inquire about the broadcast. Many contacted others in turn, leading to rumors and confusion.)

Regular programming breaks down as the studio struggles with casualty updates, firefighting developments, and the like. A shaken Pierson speculates about Martian technology. The New Jersey state militia declares martial law and attacks the cylinder; a message from their field headquarters lectures about the overwhelming force of properly equipped infantry and the helplessness of the Martians in Earth's gravity until a Tripod rises from the pit.

The Martians obliterate the militia, and the studio returns, now describing the Martians as an invading army. Emergency response bulletins give way to damage reports and evacuation instructions as millions of refugees clog the roads. Three Martian tripods from the cylinder destroy power stations and uproot bridges and railroads, reinforced by three others from a second cylinder as gas explosions continue. An unnamed Secretary of the Interior (Kenny Delmar) advises the nation. (The secretary was originally intended to be a portrayal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, then President, but CBS insisted this detail, among others, be changed. Welles directed Delmar to nonetheless imitate Roosevelt's voice.)

A live connection is established to a field artillery battery. Its gun crew reports damaging one machine and a release of black smoke/poison gas before fading into the sound of coughing. The lead plane of a wing of bombers from Langham Field (sounding much like Langley Field, where the Army Air Corps stationed the 2d Bombardment Group) broadcasts its approach and remains on the air as their engines are burned by the Heat-Ray and the plane dives on the invaders. Radio operators go active and fall silent, most immediately after reporting the approach of the black smoke. The bombers destroyed one machine, but cylinders are falling all across the country.

This section ends famously: A news reporter, broadcasting from atop the CBS building, describes the Martian invasion of New York City – "five great machines" wading across the Hudson River, poison smoke drifting over the city, people running and diving into the East River "like rats", others "falling like flies" – until he, too, succumbs to the poison gas. Finally, a ham radio operator is heard calling, "2X2L calling CQ. Isn't there anyone on the air? Isn't there anyone on the air? Isn't there... anyone?".

After an intermission for station identification, in which announcer Dan Seymour mentions that the show is fiction, and the last third is a monologue and dialogue. Welles returns as Professor Pierson, describing the aftermath of the attacks. The story ends, as does the novel, with the Martians falling victim to earthly pathogenic germs, to which they have no immunity.

After the play, Welles informally breaks character to remind listeners that the broadcast was a Halloween concoction: the equivalent, he says, "of dressing up in a sheet, jumping out of a bush and saying, 'Boo!'". Popular mythology holds this "disclaimer" was hastily added to the broadcast at the insistence of CBS executives as they became aware of panic inspired by the program; in fact, it had appeared in Koch's working script for the play.[9]

Public reaction[edit]

The New York Times headline from October 31, 1938

Some listeners heard only a portion of the broadcast and, in the tension and anxiety prior to World War II, mistook it for a genuine news broadcast.[2] Newspapers reported that panic ensued, with people across the Northeastern United States and Canada fleeing their homes. Some people called CBS, newspapers, or the police in confusion.[10][11]

Paul White, head of CBS News, was quickly summoned to the office — "and there bedlam reigned", he wrote:

The telephone switchboard, a vast sea of light, could handle only a fraction of incoming calls. The haggard Welles sat alone and despondent. "I'm through," he lamented, "washed up." I didn't bother to reply to this highly inaccurate self-appraisal. I was too busy writing explanations to put on the air, reassuring the audience that it was safe. I also answered my share of incessant telephone calls, many of them from as far away as the Pacific Coast.[12]:47–48

Future Tonight Show host Jack Paar had announcing duties that night for Cleveland CBS affiliate WGAR. As panicked listeners called the studio, Paar attempted to calm them on the phone and on air by saying: "The world is not coming to an end. Trust me. When have I ever lied to you?". When the listeners started charging Paar with "covering up the truth", he called WGAR's station manager for help. Oblivious to the situation, the manager advised Paar to calm down, saying it was "all a tempest in a teapot".[13]

In Concrete, Washington, phone lines and electricity suffered a short-circuit at the Superior Portland Cement Company's substation. Residents were unable to call neighbors, family, or friends to calm their fears. Reporters who heard of the coincidental blackout sent the story over the news-wire, and soon Concrete was known worldwide.[14]

Within one month, newspapers had published 12,500 articles about the broadcast and its impact, although the story dropped off the front pages after a few days.[1][15] Adolf Hitler cited the panic, as Richard J. Hand writes, as "evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy."[16]


Radio Digest reprinted the script of The War of the Worlds — "as a commentary on the nervous state of our nation after the Pact of Munich" — prefaced by an editorial cartoon by Les Callan of The Toronto Star (February 1939)

Later studies indicate that many missed the repeated notices about the broadcast being fictional, partly because The Mercury Theatre on the Air, an unsponsored CBS cultural program with a relatively small audience, ran at the same time as the NBC Red Network's popular Chase and Sanborn Hour, by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. About 15 minutes into Chase and Sanborn, the first comic sketch ended and a musical number began, and many listeners reportedly changed stations and heard The War of the Worlds in progress. According to the American Experience program The Battle Over Citizen Kane, Welles knew the schedule of Chase and Sanborn and scheduled the first report from Grover's Mill at the 12-minute mark to heighten the audience's confusion. As a result, some listeners happened upon the CBS broadcast at the point the Martians emerge from their spacecraft. Because the broadcast was unsponsored, Welles and company could schedule breaks at will rather than arranging them around advertisements. As a result, the only notices that the broadcast was fictional came at the start of the broadcast and about 40 and 55 minutes into it.

A study by the Radio Project discovered that some who panicked presumed that Germans, not Martians, had invaded.[11] "The shadow of war was constantly in and on the air. People were on edge", wrote Welles biographer Frank Brady:

For the entire month prior to The War of the Worlds, radio had kept the American public alert to the ominous happenings throughout the world. The Munich crisis was at its height. Adolf Hitler, in his address to the annual Nazi party congress at Nuremberg in September, called for the autonomy of the Sudetenland, an area on the Czech border regions populated by three million Sudeten Germans, as they were called. Hitler ranted and lied over German radio … For the first time in history, the public could tune into their radios every night and hear, boot by boot, accusation by accusation, threat by threat, the rumblings that seemed inevitably leading to a world war.[17]

CBS News chief Paul White wrote that he was convinced that the panic induced by the broadcast was a result of the public suspense generated before the Munich Pact. "Radio listeners had had their emotions played upon for days, and they had come to realize that news was an increasingly important part of broadcasting schedules. Thus they believed the Welles production even though it was specifically stated that the whole thing was fiction".[12]:47


Historical research has strongly suggested the panic was less widespread than newspapers had indicated at the time. "[T]he panic and mass hysteria so readily associated with The War of the Worlds did not occur on anything approaching a nationwide dimension", American University media historian W. Joseph Campbell wrote in 2003. He quotes Robert E. Bartholomew, an authority on mass panic outbreaks, as having said that "there is a growing consensus among sociologists that the extent of the panic ... was greatly exaggerated".[11]

This position is supported by contemporary accounts. "In the first place, most people didn't hear [the show]", said Frank Stanton, later president of CBS. According to the C. E. Hooper company, the main radio ratings service at the time, only 2% of the people it called up while the program aired said they were listening to it. Many more people were listening to The Chase and Sanborn Hour, long the most popular program in that timeslot. Further shrinking the potential audience, some CBS network affiliates, including some in large markets like Boston's WEEI, had pre-empted the broadcast in favor of local commercial programming.[1]

Ben Gross, radio editor for the New York Daily News, wrote in his 1954 memoir that the streets were nearly deserted as he made his way to the studio for the end of the program. The writer of a letter the Washington Post published later likewise recalled no panicked mobs in the capital's downtown streets at the time. "The supposed panic was so tiny as to be practically immeasurable on the night of the broadcast", media historians Jefferson Pooley and Michael Socolow wrote in Slate on its 75th anniversary in 2013; "Almost nobody was fooled".[1]

According to Campbell, the most common response said to indicate a panic was calling the local newspaper or police to confirm the story or seek additional information. This, he writes, is an indicator that people were not generally panicking or hysterical. "The call volume perhaps is best understood as an altogether rational response ..."[11] Some New Jersey media and law enforcement agencies received up to 40 percent more telephone calls than normal during the broadcast.[18]

Newspaper coverage and response[edit]

Newspaper coverage was affected by limited resources as well. As it was late on a Sunday night in the Eastern Time Zone, where the broadcast originated, few reporters and other staff were present in newsrooms. Most coverage thus took the form of Associated Press stories, which were largely anecdotal aggregates of reporting from its various bureaus, giving the impression that panic had indeed been widespread. Many newspapers led with the AP's story the next day.[11]

On November 2, 1938, the Australian Age characterized the incident as "mass hysteria" and stated that "never in the history of the United States had such a wave of terror and panic swept the continent". Unnamed observers quoted by the Age commented that "the panic could have only happened in America."[19]

Editorialists chastised the radio industry for allowing this to happen. This response may have reflected newspaper publishers' fears that radio, to which they had lost some of the advertising revenue that was scarce enough during the Great Depression, would render them obsolete. In The War of the Worlds, they saw an opportunity to cast aspersions on the newer medium. "The nation as a whole continues to face the danger of incomplete, misunderstood news over a medium which has yet to prove," wrote Editor & Publisher, the newspaper industry's trade journal, "that it is competent to perform the news job."[1][20]

William Randolph Hearst's papers, like many others, called on broadcasters to police themselves lest the government step in, as Iowa Senator Clyde L. Herring proposed a bill that would have required all programming to be reviewed by the FCC prior to broadcast (he never actually introduced it). Others blamed the radio audience for its credulity. Noting that any intelligent listener would have realized the broadcast was fictional, the Chicago Tribune opined that "it would be more tactful to say that some members of the radio audience are a trifle retarded mentally, and that many a program is prepared for their consumption." Other newspapers took pains to note that anxious listeners had called their offices to learn whether Martians were really attacking.[11]

There are few contemporary accounts outside newspaper coverage of the mass panic and hysteria supposedly induced by the broadcast. Justin Levine, a producer at KFI-AM in Los Angeles, wrote in a 2000 history of the FCC's response to hoax broadcasts that "the anecdotal nature of such reporting makes it difficult to objectively assess the true extent and intensity of the panic.[21] Bartholomew sees this as yet more evidence that the panic was predominantly a creation of the newspaper industry.[5]


Hand cites studies by unnamed historians who "calculate[d] that some 6 million heard the CBS broadcast; 1.7 million believed it to be true, and 1.2 million were 'genuinely frightened'". NBC's audience, by contrast, was an estimated 30 million.[16] However, Pooley and Socolow wrote that the only serious contemporary study on the purported panic, Princeton professor Hadley Cantril's The Invasion from Mars, released six weeks later by the American Institute for Public Opinion, from which this conclusion appears to be drawn, has serious flaws. Its estimate of the program's audience is more than twice as high as any other at the time. Cantril conceded this, but argued that unlike Hooper his estimate had attempted to capture the significant portion of the audience that did not have home telephones at that time. Since those respondents were contacted only after the media frenzy, Cantril allowed that their recollections could have been influenced by what they read in the newspapers. Claims that Chase and Sanborn listeners who missed the disclaimer at the beginning when they turned to CBS during a commercial break or musical performance on that show and thus mistook War of the Worlds for a real broadcast inflated the show's audience and the ensuing alleged panic are impossible to substantiate.[1]

Apart from his admittedly imperfect methods of estimating the audience and assessing the authenticity of their response, Pooley and Socolow found, Cantril made another error in typing audience reaction. Respondents had indicated a variety of reactions to the program, among them "excited", "disturbed," and "frightened". Yet he included all of them with "panicked," failing to account for the possibility that despite their reaction they were still aware the broadcast was staged. "[T]hose who did hear it, looked at it as a prank and accepted it that way," recalled Stanton.[1]

Bartholomew grants that hundreds of thousands were frightened but calls evidence of people taking action based on their fear "scant" and "anecdotal".[22] Indeed, contemporary news articles indicate that police were swamped with hundreds of calls in numerous locations, but stories of people doing anything more than calling authorities mostly involve only small groups. Such stories were often reported by people who were panicking themselves.[11]

Later investigations found much of the alleged panicked responses to have been exaggerated or mistaken. Cantril's researchers found that, contrary to what had been claimed, there were no admissions for shock at a Newark hospital during the broadcast; hospitals in New York City similarly reported no spike in admissions that night. A few suicide attempts seem to have been prevented when friends or family intervened, but there was no record of a successful one. A Washington Post claim that a man died of a heart attack brought on by listening to the program could not be verified. One woman filed a lawsuit against CBS, but it was soon dismissed.[1]


In the aftermath of the reported panic, CBS responded to public outcry by pointing to reminders throughout the broadcast that it was a performance. Welles and Mercury Theatre escaped punishment but not censure; FCC chairman Frank McNinch got not only CBS but all the radio networks to agree that they would not use staged newscasts as an element of fictional dramas again.[1] The notoriety of the broadcast led the Campbell Soup Company to sponsor the show; The Mercury Theatre on the Air was renamed The Campbell Playhouse on December 9, 1938.[4]:348

Many listeners sued the network for "mental anguish" and "personal injury". All suits were dismissed, except for a claim for a pair of black men's shoes by a Massachusetts man, who spent his shoe money to escape the Martians. Welles insisted the man be paid.[23]

CBS received nearly 2,000 letters and telegrams, the majority of which praised the network for the quality of the program. The nearly 1,500 sent to the Mercury Theatre staff were overwhelmingly positive. At the FCC, however, the correspondence was more toward the negative. Some was from public officials, like the city manager of Trenton, New Jersey, the nearest large city to the Martians' fictional landing site, who complained about how the incoming phone calls to the police had "completely crippled communication facilities of our Police Department for about three hours." Others were from citizens who urged the agency to actively censor radio to prevent this from happening in the future.[24]

Other members of the public who contacted the FCC distanced themselves from the controversy: "I was one of the thousands who heard this program and did not jump out of the window, did not attempt suicide, did not break my arm while beating a hasty retreat from my apartment, did not anticipate a horrible death, did not hear the Martians 'rapping on my chamber door,' did not see the monsters landing in war-like regalia in the park across the street, but sat serenely entertained no end by the fine portrayal of a fine play," wrote a South Dakota man. Singer Eddie Cantor urged the commission not to overreact, as "censorship would retard radio immeasurably."[24] Ultimately the agency not only chose not to punish Welles or CBS, it barred complaints about The War of the Worlds from being brought up during license renewals. "Janet Jackson's 2004 'wardrobe malfunction' remains far more significant in the history of broadcast regulation than Orson Welles' trickery," wrote Pooley and Socolow.[1]

Meeting of Welles and Wells[edit]

H. G. Wells and Orson Welles met for the first and only time in late October 1940, shortly before the second anniversary of the Mercury Theatre broadcast, when they both happened to be lecturing in San Antonio, Texas. On October 28, 1940, the two men visited the studios of KTSA radio for an interview by Charles C. Shaw,[4]:361 who introduced them by characterizing the panic generated by The War of the Worlds: "The country at large was frightened almost out of its wits".[25]

Wells expressed good-natured skepticism about the actual extent of the panic caused by "this sensational Halloween spree. Are you sure there was such a panic in America or wasn't it your Halloween fun?"[25]

Welles appreciated the comment: "I think that’s the nicest thing that a man from England could say about the men from Mars. Mr. Hitler made a good deal of sport of it, you know … It's supposed to show the corrupt condition and decadent state of affairs in democracy, that The War of the Worlds went over as well as it did. I think it's very nice of Mr. Wells to say that not only I didn’t mean it, but the American people didn’t mean it."[25]

When Shaw interjected that there was "some excitement" that he did not wish to belittle, Welles asked him, "What kind of excitement? Mr. H. G. Welles wants to know if the excitement wasn't the same kind of excitement that we extract from a practical joke in which somebody puts a sheet over his head and says 'Boo!' I don't think anybody believes that that individual is a ghost, but we do scream and yell and rush down the hall. And that's just about what happened."[25]

"That’s a very excellent description," Shaw said.[25]

"You aren’t quite serious in America, yet," said Wells. "You haven’t got the war right under your chins. And the consequence is you can still play with ideas of terror and conflict. … It's a natural thing to do until you're right up against it."[25]

"Until it ceases to be a game," Welles said — a phrase Wells repeated.[25][26] England had then been at war with Nazi Germany for more than a year.


Initially apologetic about the supposed panic his broadcast had caused (and privately fuming that newspaper reports of lawsuits were either greatly exaggerated or totally fabricated[21]), Welles later embraced the story as part of his personal myth. "Houses were emptying, churches were filling up; from Nashville to Minneapolis there was wailing in the streets and the rending of garments," he claimed to an interviewer years later.[11] CBS, too, found reports ultimately useful in promoting the strength of its influence. It presented a fictionalized account of the panic in a 1957 episode of the television series Studio One, and included it prominently in its 2003 celebrations of CBS's 75th anniversary as a television broadcaster. "The legend of the panic," according to Jefferson and Socolow, "grew exponentially over the following years ... [It] persists because it so perfectly captures our unease with the media's power over our lives."[1]

The New Jersey Township of West Windsor, where Grover's Mill is located, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the broadcast in 1988 with four days of festivities including art and planetarium shows, a panel discussion, a parade, burial of a time capsule, a dinner dance, film festivals devoted to H. G. Wells and Orson Welles, and the dedication of a bronze monument to the fictional Martian landings. Howard Koch, an author of the original radio script, attended the 49th anniversary celebration as an honored guest.[27]

On 27 October 2013, BBC Radio 4extra broadcast the show at 6pm GMT to commemorate the 75th Anniversary with an introduction by George Takei. On the previous day, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an analysis of the impact the broadcast made on an unsuspecting audience and its legacy. It looked at the myths and anecdotes generated since the original broadcast.

On October 29, 2013, the PBS documentary series American Experience examined The War of the Worlds broadcast on the eve of its 75th anniversary.[28][29]


Title page of the original typescript for The War of the Worlds, on the cover of the Sotheby's auction catalog (December 14, 1988)

On December 14, 1988, the original radio script for The War of the Worlds was sold at auction at Sotheby's in New York by author Howard Koch. The typescript bears the handwritten deletions and additions of Orson Welles and producer John Houseman. It was thought to have been the only copy of the script known to survive.

"The police came in after the broadcast and seized whatever copies they could find as evidence, I suppose", Koch told The New York Times. "There was a question that we had done something that might have criminal implications." Expected to bring between $25,000 and $35,000,[30] the script sold for $143,000 — setting a record for an article of entertainment memorabilia.[31] "I had a private offer of $60,000", Koch said after selling the 46-page script, which had been in his file cabinet for years. "They advised me to take the gamble. I guess it was the right gamble."[32]

A second surviving War of the Worlds radio script — Welles's own directorial copy, given to an associate for safekeeping — was auctioned June 2, 1994, at Christie's in New York. Estimated to bring $15,000 to $20,000, the script was sold for $32,200.[33] The successful bidder was filmmaker Steven Spielberg, whose collection also includes one of the three balsa "Rosebud" sleds from Citizen Kane. Spielberg adapted The War of the Worlds for a feature film in 2005.[34][35]


On January 27, 2003, the Mercury Theatre broadcast of The War of the Worlds was made part of the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.[36]

Re-airings and adaptations[edit]

Since the original Mercury Theatre broadcast, there have been many re-airings, remakes, reenactments and new dramatizations of the original. Many American radio stations, particularly those that regularly air old-time radio programs, re-air the original program as a Halloween tradition.

  • In February 1949, Leonardo Paez and Eduardo Alcaraz produced a Spanish-language version of Welles's 1938 script for Radio Quito in Quito, Ecuador. The broadcast set off panic in the city. Police and fire brigades rushed out of town to engage the supposed alien invasion force. After it was revealed that the broadcast was fiction, the panic transformed into a riot. Hundreds attacked Radio Quito and El Comercio, a local newspaper that had participated in the hoax by publishing false reports of unidentified objects in the skies above Ecuador in the days preceding the broadcast. The riot resulted in at least seven deaths, including those of Paez's girlfriend and nephew. Paez moved to Venezuela after the incident.[22][37][38]
  • Two different remakes created by writer/producer Bob Karson aired ten years apart, both on Halloween night. The first, "War of the Worlds 1987", on KHOW in Denver, Colorado, ended with a 10-minute mostly ad-libbed monologue by Charlie Martin (the acerbic half of the Hal and Charlie morning show), in the station's bomb shelter, as the last man on earth. Karson's "War of the Worlds 1997", on Washington, D.C. station WBIG-FM, treated the nation's capital to a Martian invasion. In addition to a speech from President Bill Clinton above the mayhem in Air Force One, this version has a scene in which Mayor Marion Barry tries to communicate with one of the capsules and is zapped. (Both were played by actors.)
  • In 1975 the ABC network aired a television docudrama film about the 1938 broadcast called The Night That Panicked America, starring Vic Morrow, Meredith Baxter and Paul Shenar as Orson Welles.
  • Northwest Missouri State University aired a TV version of the original show for their 2006 Halloween special, supplemented by fake footage of an interview with an astronomy professor, the aliens landing outside of Maryville, Missouri, and people running through the streets in terror.
  • On 30 October 2008, the Spanish Radio Academy commemorated the 70th anniversary through the recreation of the Spanish version from the theater in Madrid and with the participation of all national radio.
  • In March 2011, Toronto's Art of Time Ensemble staged a show about the presentation of the radio drama featuring Marc Bendavid, Nicholas Campbell and Don McKellar, sound effects artist John Gzowski, and ten musicians performing a newly commissioned medley of Bernard Herrmann film scores.[44]
  • In October 2012 Lock Haven University's Radio club did a special version of the broadcast, with the script adjusted so most of the events happened in Lock Haven.
  • In October 2012, students at the University of Connecticut and members of the Windham Theatre Guild performed an adaptation of the script on WHUS, with the first half of the story occurring in Eastern Connecticut, and incorporating the events of Hurricane Sandy.[45]
  • On 9 February 2013, the French public radio France Culture aired an adaptation of the broadcast, live from the Longueur d'Ondes ("Wavelength") radio festival in Brest. The plot, narration and places were kept the same as the original, but the music was replaced with contemporary Breton music and an interview of the director of the festival, and a very few names were adapted for practical reasons, e.g. reporter Carl Philips was renamed Carla Philips because the role was held by an actress.[46]
  • On 13 August 2013, the iOS application, "Disney Animated", included this in their "Timeline" section, under the label, "sci-fi drama".
  • On 4 September 2013, the Malaysian radio station BFM 89.9 aired a localized adaptation of the broadcast, starring radio announcers from the station itself.[47]
  • On 30 October 2013, Sydney community radio station 2SER broadcast a modernised adaptation[48] of 'War of the Worlds', set locally in Australia, to commemorate the drama's 75th anniversary.[49]
  • On 30 October 2013, Montana Public Radio broadcast both the original script and an adaptation of 'War of the Worlds', set in Montana, to commemorate the drama's 75th anniversary.
  • On 30 October 2013, the Grand Theater in Grand Island, Nebraska presented a live broadcast of the play, which was streamed over the internet and television. The actors dressed in period clothing, and even arranged for an all-original 1937 Oldsmobile sedan to be parked out front of the theater during the performance.
  • On 30 October 2013, the Spanish Radio Academy commemorated the 75th anniversary through the recreation of the Spanish version from the theater in Madrid and with the participation of all national radio.
  • On 31 October 2013 the science fiction radio station Krypton Radio presented a modernized adaptation of the play,[50] written and produced by Christopher H. Baum, drawn from the original work by H.G. Wells. It was streamed over the internet to commemorate the original drama's 75th anniversary.
  • On 31 October 2013 XERS radio ( rebroadcast the original recording in its entirety in over 50 countries and all 50 states from northern Indiana to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the original broadcast.


Monument in Van Nest Park, Grover's Mill, New Jersey, memorializing the fictional Martian landing site (October 1988)

It is sometimes said the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was received with skepticism by the American public, as a consequence of the radio performance.[51] In the 1943 film Air Force, when the attack is reported on the radio a character asks if they have Orson Welles tuned in.[52]

The plot of the 1994 TV movie Without Warning centers around Earth being hit by three meteor fragments. The filmmakers acknowledged their debt to The War of the Worlds, and the film was first broadcast on CBS TV on the 56th anniversary of the radio broadcast. It was broadcast with a disclaimer identifying it as fictional, as the 1983 TV movie Special Bulletin had been. NBC placed disclaimers in an October 1999 TV movie dramatizing possible effects of the Y2K bug though it was unlikely to be confused with reality.

In 2005, Danish radio station P2 announced a plan to broadcast a remake of The War of the Worlds on September 3 of that year. As the broadcast was about to start, an announcer interrupted the show to report a fake story about a biological terrorist attack on Copenhagen.[citation needed]

References in fiction[edit]

  • A 1940 Human Torch story published in Marvel Mystery Comics contained a reference to a radio hoax involving an alien invasion that had been concocted by a man named Lawson Bell.[53]
  • In the 1940 Mickey Mouse cartoon Tugboat Mickey, Mickey, Goofy, and Donald destroy a tugboat after hearing a SOS on the boat's radio. It is later revealed that it was just a radio show. In response, the three attack and drown the radio.
  • In the 1946 Looney Tunes cartoon short Kitty Kornered, a group of house cats (including a Sylvester look-alike) gets revenge on Porky Pig for putting them outside for the night by disguising themselves as aliens and waking him with a fake radio alert about "men from Mars".
  • In Woody Allen's 1987 film Radio Days, the broadcast prompts a female character's date to abandon her in the car and run away in panic, leaving her to walk six miles home. The next day, the date calls her but she refuses a further invitation by claiming she has "married a Martian".
  • Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Michael Crichton's Sphere both cite the Welles broadcast as evidence that, in the event of an actual alien arrival, it would be more prudent to anticipate mass panic on the part of humanity rather than wonder and awe.
  • The 1968 novel Sideslip by Ted White and Dave Van Arnam takes place in an alternate history in which aliens took advantage of the confusion following the broadcast to carry out an actual invasion.
  • In the 1984 film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, aliens arrive on Earth in Grover's Mill and hypnotize Welles, causing him to pass the broadcast off as a drama when it is indeed factual.
  • In the 1990 film Spaced Invaders, a crew of dimwitted Martians intercepts radio signals from a rebroadcast of the performance and believes the entire Martian invasion fleet is moving in, leading them to land on Earth.
  • A 1957 Westinghouse Studio One episode, "The Night America Trembled", depicts a semi-fictionalized version of the broadcast and the audience reaction. A 1975 made-for-television film, The Night That Panicked America, offers a similar dramatization of the event.
  • In the fictional history of the War of the Worlds TV series, Welles was hired by the government to orchestrate the broadcast in order to cover up a reconnaissance mission by the same aliens, who would launch an all-out war 15 years later.
  • In a Halloween episode of Hey Arnold!, Arnold and Gerald conduct a radio broadcast in an attempt to scare the residents of Arnold's boarding house. The broadcast is inadvertently picked up by a paranormal investigator, who mistakes it as legitimate and re-broadcasts it across the city as a real news bulletin.[54]
  • The Doctor Who audio drama Invaders from Mars is set in New York City at the time of the broadcast. Unusual events occurring in the city's underworld mirror the radio story.
  • "Battle for the Planet", an Animaniacs segment starring Pinky and the Brain, features the Brain's plan to recreate the broadcast and take over the world during the panic he believes (wrongly) will ensue. Instead, the much more sophisticated viewing audience finds the obvious hoax hilarious.
  • The TaleSpin episode "War of the Weirds" centers around several characters' competing and escalating hoaxes about travel to Mars and Martian invasions.
  • In an episode of The Flintstones, a radio broadcaster sparks panic in Bedrock by warning of an imminent invasion by the "Way-Outs", which is really just a music group resembling The Beatles wearing odd costumes.
  • In an episode of the short-lived animated series adaptation of Dennis the Menace, Dennis and his cohorts visit a radio station studio to record a radio play for a school project. Their play is accidentally broadcast, which deprives invading Martians of the element of surprise and leads to their defeat by the townspeople.
  • In the 1987 Newhart episode "Take Me to Your Loudon", local TV programmer Michael Harris tries to duplicate Welles' feat by airing the 1953 movie version of War of the Worlds, successfully sending the entire town into panic.
  • Touched by an Angel features parts of the original broadcast in a 1996 Halloween episode titled "The Sky is Falling". In the episode, an old man has to deal with the trauma he endured during the nationwide panic, including the death of his father due to a misfire by a paranoid citizen.
  • The November 4, 2007, episode of Cold Case deals with a fictional murder that took place during the panic surrounding the original 1938 radio broadcast.
  • In "Panic", a 1997 episode of HBO's Perversions of Science, alien invaders disguised as humans mistakenly believe that a War of the Worlds-style broadcast is announcing an unexpected invasion of Earth by their people.
  • The Simpsons has alluded to the broadcast several times. In "Radio Bart", Homer buys Bart a microphone that can be used to broadcast on nearby radios. Bart tricks Homer into believing a Martian has eaten the President of the United States. Marge mentions the broadcast in passing during the introduction to "Treehouse of Horror IV". And "Treehouse of Horror XVII" features a segment titled "The Day the Earth Looked Stupid", in which a hoax broadcast inspires a brief panic in Springfield circa 1938. Aliens then destroy Springfield after no one believes they are really aliens.
  • In the Futurama episode "Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences", the head of Welles (voiced by Maurice LaMarche) is recruited to re-perform his famous broadcast to make an alien ruler's wife believe he had actually conquered Earth.
  • An Adventures in Odyssey episode, "Terror From the Skies", is based on and makes many references to The War of the Worlds. Like Orson Welles' broadcast, it features a dramatized radio broadcast that tells about an alien invasion of Earth.
  • EC Comics did a story in Weird Science in which a TV network decides to a televise a remake of the broadcast. To avoid confusion, they publicize the event weeks ahead of time. A real invasion occurs the same night, and as the station breaks into the hoax report with a real report, no one believes it.
  • In Superman #62 (January/February 1950), Welles learns of an imminent Martian invasion and attempts to notify the people. Everyone except Superman dismisses Welles's radio warnings as another hoax.
  • This also happens in a September 28, 1947 story in Spirit (comics). The story, titled "UFO", featured megalomaniacal media mogul Awsome Bells, who is visited by Martians disclosing invasion plans to him. At first he thinks it's a gag to promote a script for him to produce. When he finds it's real, no one will listen to him because of his notorious broadcast, so he decides to go to Mars himself.[55]
  • Crimson Glory's song "March to Glory", an introduction to their album Astronomica, contains clips from The War of the Worlds and other 20th-century radio broadcasts. The next song on the album is titled "War of the Worlds" and is about an alien invasion.
  • Pinback's song "Boo" from the album Blue Screen Life uses sound bites from the broadcast, including the infamous "2X2L calling CQ" line, at the beginning. The sound bites correlate to the lyrics of the song, which describe a sinking submarine.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Para-Medic recalls her family believing the broadcast in a conversation with Snake.
  • In both the 1955 film version and 2011 stage version of The Ladykillers, Mrs. Wilberforce mentions that one of her neighbors had reported a suspected alien invasion, but it turned out that she had fallen asleep in front of the radio and woken up whilst a sci-fi series was being played.
  • In the Arthur episode "D.W. Aims High", the character of D.W. Read shows fear of aliens. Her father explains that it's okay to be afraid by telling D.W. about Orson Welles's radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds.
  • In the Wingin' It episode "Announce of Prevention", first aired in 2012, protagonist Carl Montclaire recreates the radio play on the advice of drama teacher Mrs Lennox. Carl writes school announcements in the style of The War of the Worlds that promote studying to help Principal Malone pass his evaluation. With the help of his guardian angel, Carl convinces the entire school that an alien invasion is taking place and that the only way to defend against the attackers is to study science and find their weaknesses. Carl follows this up with a fake zombie invasion.
  • In a segment of Taz-Mania titled "The Man from M.A.R.S.", Taz listens to a spoof of The War of the Worlds. When he sees Marvin the Martian arriving for a vacation at Tazmania, Taz is convinced that Marvin leads an invasion force and disrupts Marvin's vacation in an attempt save Earth.
  • Children's author and illustrator Meghan McCarthy details the broadcast and ensuing panic in her 2006 rhyming picture book Aliens Are Coming!.

Current ownership[edit]

The estate of scriptwriter Howard Koch owns the rights to the radio broadcast.[56][57]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Pooley, Jefferson; Socolow, Michael (October 28, 2013). "The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic". Slate. Retrieved November 1, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Brinkley, Alan (2010). "Chapter 23 - The Great Depression". The Unfinished Nation. p. 615. ISBN 978-0-07-338552-5. 
  3. ^ Fielding, Raymond, The March of Time, 1935–1951. New York: Oxford University Press 1978 hardcover ISBN 0-19-502212-2 page 13
  4. ^ a b c Welles, Orson, and Peter Bogdanovich, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum, This is Orson Welles. New York: HarperCollins Publishers 1992 ISBN 0-06-016616-9
  5. ^ a b Bartholomew, Robert; Radford, Benjamin (2012). The Martians Have Landed!: A History of Media-driven Panics and Hoaxes. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. pp. 20–21. ISBN 9780786464982. Retrieved November 4, 2013. 
  6. ^ Museum of Hoaxes: The BBC Radio Panic, 1926
  7. ^ Invasion Panic This Week; Martians Coming Next, Radio Recall, April 2013.
  8. ^ In the intro, Welles says, "In the thirty-ninth year of the twentieth century came the great disillusionment".
  9. ^ Howard Koch, The Panic Broadcast, 1970.
  10. ^ "Radio Listeners in Panic, Taking War Drama as Fact" (reprint). New York Times. 1938-10-31. "In Newark, in a single block at Heddon Terrace and Hawthorne Avenue, more than twenty families rushed from their houses with wet handkerchiefs and towels over their faces to flee what they believed a gas raid. Some began moving household furniture. Throughout New York, families left their homes, some to to near-by parks. Thousands of persons called the police, newspapers, and radio stations here and in other cities of the United States and Canada, seeking advice on protective measures against the raids." 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Campbell, W. Joseph. (2010). Getting it wrong : ten of the greatest misreported stories in American Journalism. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 26–44. ISBN 978-0-520-26209-6. 
  12. ^ a b White, Paul W., News on the Air. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1947
  13. ^ Bloomfield, Gary (2004). Duty, Honor, Applause: America's Entertainers in World War II, Part 810. Globe Pequot. p. 37. ISBN 978-1-59228-550-1. 
  14. ^ KIRO listeners responsible for most famous War of the Worlds panic Accessed 10-31-11.
  15. ^ "War of the Worlds Gallery". The Mercury Theatre Radio Programs, Digital Deli. Retrieved 2014-01-12.  Representative news headlines from October 31, 1938.
  16. ^ a b Hand, Richard J. (2006). Terror on the Air!: Horror Radio in America, 1931–1952. Jefferson, North Carolina: Macfarland & Company. p. 7. ISBN 0-7864-2367-6. 
  17. ^ Brady, Frank, Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989 ISBN 0-385-26759-2 pp. 164–165
  18. ^ Bartholomew, Robert E. (November–December 1998). "The Martian Panic Sixty Years Later: What Have We Learned?". Skeptical Inquirer. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  19. ^ "Mass Hysteria in U.S.A. Radio Broadcast Panic". The Age (Melbourne: 1854 - ) (Vic.: Fairfax). 2 November 1938. p. 8. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  20. ^ Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future, by Stanley J. Baran, Dennis K. Davis
  21. ^ a b Levine, Justin; "A History and Analysis of the Federal Communication Commission's Response to Radio Broadcast Hoaxes"; 52 Fed Comm L J 2, 273–320, 278n28; March 1, 2000; retrieved November 5, 2013.
  22. ^ a b Bartholomew, Robert E. (2001). Little Green Men, Meowing Nuns and Head-Hunting Panics: A Study of Mass Psychogenic Illness and Social Delusion. Jefferson, North Carolina: Macfarland & Company. pp. 217ff. ISBN 0-7864-0997-5. 
  23. ^ Schroeder, Andreas (2005). Scams!. True stories from the Edge (2nd ed.). Annick Press. p. 43. ISBN 1-55037-852-X. 
  24. ^ a b Potter, Lee Ann (Fall 2003). ""Jitterbugs" and "Crack-pots": Letters to the FCC about the "War of the Worlds" Broadcast". Prologue 35 (3). Retrieved November 3, 2013. 
  25. ^ a b c d e f g "Orson Welles and H.G. Welles". YouTube. Retrieved 2014-09-26. 
  26. ^ "When Orson Welles Met H G Wells". Transcript. Ross Lawhead (blog), September 17, 2012. Retrieved 2014-09-26. 
  27. ^ War of the Worlds – News Stories, Township of West Windsor, Mercer County, New Jersey; Delany, Don, "West Windsor Celebrates 'The War of the Worlds'" (PDF), Mercer Business, October 1988, pp. 14–17
  28. ^ "PBS fall season offers an array of new series, specials and returning favorites". PBS press release, May 9, 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-29. 
  29. ^ "War of the Worlds". American Experience, WGBH PBS. Retrieved 2013-10-29. 
  30. ^ Reif, Rita, "Auctions"; The New York Times, October 21, 1988
  31. ^ Reif, Rita, "Antiques: Books Tell Tales of Art and Money"; The New York Times, July 2, 1989
  32. ^ Armstrong, Kiley, "War of the Worlds Script Fetches $143,000"; Associated Press, December 15, 1988
  33. ^ Sale 7565 / Lot 149, Orson Welles. Typescript radioplay The War of the Worlds. Christie's, June 2, 1994
  34. ^ Millar, John, "Cruising for a Summer Hit; The Aliens Have Landed"; Sunday Mail (Scotland) (Scotland), June 26, 2005
  35. ^ "Orson Welles War of the Worlds script inspired Steven Spielberg's movie"; Wellesnet, The Orson Welles Web Resource, November 4, 2006
  36. ^ The National Recording Registry 2002, National Recording Preservation Board (Library of Congress); retrieved June 17, 2012
  37. ^ "War of the Worlds". Radio Lab. Season 4. Episode 3. March 7, 2008. "In 1949, when Radio Quito decided to translate the Orson Welles stunt for an Ecuadorian audience, no one knew that the result would be a riot that would burn down the radio station and kill at least 7 people."
  38. ^ "War Of The Worlds radio broadcast, Quito (1949)". Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  39. ^ "Grammy Awards and Nominations for 1989". Tribune Company. 1989. Archived from the original on 2007-07-04. Retrieved 2007-07-31. 
  40. ^ "War of the Worlds & The Lost World". The Play's the Thing. 2009-08-31.
  41. ^ "XM to Host Live 'War of the Worlds' Re-Enactment With Glenn Beck on Oct. 30. - Free Online Library". Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  42. ^ "Világok harca". 2010-06-01.
  43. ^ Rawson, Christopher (2010-10-29). "Bricolage re-creates on-spot 'War of the Worlds' radio play". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  44. ^ Terauds, John, "Ensemble aces Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds". Toronto Star, March 31, 2011
  45. ^ Martians, UConn. "Martians Invade UConn in ‘War of the Worlds’ on Campus Radio". Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  46. ^ "La guerre des mondes, en Direct et en public du Festival Longueur d'ondes de Brest". Retrieved 3 June 2013. 
  47. ^ "BFM: The Business Radio Station - BFM's Adaptation of The War of the Worlds". Retrieved 6 September 2013. 
  48. ^ "Mars attacks as 2SER relives War of the Worlds". Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  49. ^ "War of the Worlds on Radio 2SER has Sydney under alien invasion for Halloween eve". Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  50. ^ "This Halloween: War of the Worlds, Reimagined!". Retrieved 28 October 2013. 
  51. ^ Rich, Frank (2005-06-19). "Two Top Guns Shoot Blanks". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-30. 
  52. ^ "Memorable quotes for Air Force (1943)". Imdb. 
  53. ^ Marvel Mystery Comics #3 (January 1940)
  54. ^ "Hey Arnold!: "Arnold's Halloween"". IMDb. Retrieved 2007-11-10. 
  55. ^ The Spirit Section, September 28, 1947, reprinted in Warren Publishing's The Spirit #2 in 1974. The 1974 edition includes a tag about news stories that began appearing in June, 1947 about mysterious "flying disks" in U.S. air space. The entire story is reprinted at Pappy's Golden Age Comics.
  56. ^ "Science Fiction on Radio". Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  57. ^ "Image View". Retrieved 2012-11-07. 


  • Cantril, Handley; Koch, Howard; Gaudet, Hazel; Herzog, Herta; Wells, H. G. (1982) [1940]. The Invasion from Mars: A Study in the Psychology of Panic (reprint ed.). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09399-7. 
  • Hand, Richard J. (2006). Terror on the Air!: Horror Radio in America, 1931–1952. Jefferson, North Carolina: Macfarlane & Company. ISBN 0-7864-2367-6. 
  • Koch, Howard (1970). The Panic Broadcast: Portrait of an Event. Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-50060-7. 
  • Ruperto, Edward J. (2002) [1956]. The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (reprint ed.). Garden City, New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-9665312-3-X. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bulgatz, Joseph (1992). Ponzi Schemes, Invaders from Mars & More: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-517-58830-7. 
  • Estrin, Mark W.; Welles, Orson (2002). Orson Welles Interviews. Jackson (Miss.): University of Mississippi. 
  • Gosling, John (2009). Waging The War of the Worlds: A History of the 1938 Radio Broadcast and Resulting Panic. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-4105-4. 
  • Holmsten, Brian; Lubertozzi, Alex, eds. (2001). The Complete War of the Worlds: Mars' Invasion of Earth from H.G. Wells to Orson Welles. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks MediaFusion. ISBN 1-570-71714-1. 
  • The Martian Panic Sixty Years Later from CSICOP
  • The Martian Invasion describes instances of panic, outcry over the panic and the responses by the FCC and CBS
  • BBC report on the 1926 Knox riot hoax

External links[edit]