Wednesday, May. 06, 2009

War of the Worlds

Call it the first widespread scare of the wireless era. By 1938, the radio was ubiquitous and the radio drama was in its heyday, and no one took greater advantage than broadcaster Orson Welles. On Oct. 31, radio audiences who believed they were tuning into a concert were instead treated to Welles' dramatization of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. The concert was interrupted frequently by Welles masquerading as a news announcer, giving frenzied updates of a Martian invasion of Earth. Though he mentioned at several points during the broadcast that it was merely a dramatization, thousands of listeners panicked — stockpiling supplies and barricading their homes against aliens who existed on the airwaves alone.

Not learning the lesson of the U.S. panic, an Ecuadorian radio station tried a similar stunt in 1949. Listeners were not amused and burned its offices to the ground in retaliation.

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