The War of the Worlds (radio 1968)

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The War of the Worlds was a radio drama, originally aired by Buffalo, New York radio station WKBW 1520 on October 31, 1968. It was a modernized version of the original radio drama aired by CBS in 1938.

Danny Kriegler served as the director of the radio drama while Jefferson Kaye served as its producer.

Development[edit]

Background[edit]

WKBW program director Jefferson Kaye, a big fan of the original Orson Welles version from three decades earlier, wondered what The War of the Worlds would sound like if it was made using up-to-date (for 1968) radio news equipment, covering the "story" of a Martian invasion. Up until this point, most radio renditions of the 1938 broadcast were simply script re-readings with different actors or had minor variations to account for significantly different geographical locations. Kaye decided to disregard the original script entirely, move the action to Grand Island, New York, and use actual WKBW disc jockeys and news reporters as actors. Other changes reflected the changing state of the industry: instead of the old-time radio programming fare of the 1930s, WKBW's War of the Worlds broadcast was interwoven into the station's top 40 programming.

Production[edit]

Initially, a script was written for the news reporters to act out; however, upon hearing the rehearsals, it was evident that the news reporters were not adept at scripted radio acting. So instead, Kaye wrote an outline based on the events that were to occur, and the news reporters were then asked to describe the events as they would covering an actual news story. The results were much more realistic for its time, and this was the process used for the actual broadcast.

Broadcast[edit]

The play began a few minutes before 11:00 PM ET with a somber introduction by Danny Neaverth tackling the comparison of radio broadcast technology during the original broadcast and the upcoming production. Neaverth later restated the forewarning of the broadcast's fictitious nature.

The initial part of the broadcast alternated from Top 40 hits to news break-ins and back until half-past eleven PM ET when continuous reportage and worsening situations on the ground takes over. One by one, radio and TV newsmen are killed off, from Jim Faigan until Jefferson Kaye. After Kaye's character dies, Neaverth returns again with his closing speech taken from the novel's epilogue.

Cast[edit]

These are the personnel who participated in the 1968 broadcast, listed as first heard on the play.

  • Top-of-the-hour newscaster - Joe Downey
  • Deejay - Sandy Beach
  • Studio anchors (continuous coverage, in successive order) - Joe Downey, Henry Brock and Jefferson Kaye
  • Reporters - Jim Faigan and Don Lancer (WKBW-AM), John Irving and Irv Weinstein (WKBW-TV)

Reaction[edit]

Despite an exhaustive advertising campaign by WKBW for this show, several people were still convinced upon listening to it that the events unfolding in the show were genuine. Among those fooled included a local newspaper, several small-town police officers and even the Canadian military, which dispatched troops to the Peace Bridge.[citation needed] Although the public concern over the legitimacy of the broadcast was not as great as in 1938, creator Kaye and director Dan Kriegler feared that they were going to lose their jobs as a result of the broadcast; Kaye claimed that he actually submitted his resignation, certain that he was going to be fired the next day. However, no one involved in the broadcast was fired and the resignation was not accepted.[1]

During the broadcast, the show was interrupted every few minutes with commercials from AM&A's and other sponsors, ending with the disclaimer that it was just a dramatization. However, at four minutes before midnight, Jefferson Kaye interrupted the pre-taped events to give this disclaimer but not until after he threatened director Danny Kriegler that he will run outside Main Street of Buffalo if he wasn't allowed to break in as the number of calls received by the station from frightened listeners were getting out of hand:[2]

What you are listening to is a dramatization of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds on WKBW radio, 1520 on your Buffalo dial. I repeat, it is a dramatization; it is a play. It is not happening in any way, shape or form. What you are listening to is a dramatization of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds as being portrayed on WKBW 1520 Buffalo. The time is two and one half minutes before twelve o'clock.[3]

Further versions[edit]

1971: Jackson Armstrong was the DJ at the beginning of this broadcast. This version was edited down to 63 minutes from the 78-minute original. Jefferson Kaye reprised Danny Neaverth's role in the 1968 broadcast but adding more emphasis on the aftermath of the adaptation from that year.

1973: Shane "The Cosmic Cowboy" was the opening DJ and the rest of the broadcast was identical to the 1971 version. The 1973 version was rebroadcast on WGWE in 2012.

1975: Considered by many to be the weakest of the versions, this edition contained sloppy editing done to eliminate on-air talent no longer with the station, notably Kaye who would later become WPVI's Action News announcer until his death in 2012.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Gosling, John. Waging the War of the Worlds. Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland, 2009 (paperback, ISBN 0-7864-4105-4).

External links[edit]

References[edit]