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).
We will have fun reading this with GREAT sound effects. PLUS: We'll read humorous ads and news items. PLUS: We'll premiere Jeff's 10-minute Halloween play, Horror at 45 RPM, in which five sorority coeds are terrorized by a dead DJ in a New Mexico desert trailer!
History of Welles' broadcast. The first two thirds of the 62-minute broadcast were presented as a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested to many 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. Although there were sensationalist accounts in the press about a supposed panic in response to the broadcast, the precise extent of listener response has been debated, particularly since the show was not drawing a large share of the radio audience. Many more Americans were listening to Edgar Bergen; however, when Bergen's opening comedy routine ended and gave way to a musical interlude, many people may have started turning the radio dial to see what else was on. Those people found a radio show that sounded like a real account of an alien attack. The show did issue a disclaimer at the beginning of the show, but the people tuning in late did not hear that announcement and so a small panic did occur.
In the days following the adaptation, however, there was widespread outrage in the media. 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. Despite these complaints—or perhaps in part because of them—the episode secured Welles's fame as a dramatist.
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 actual broadcast date. The program continues with a weather report and an ordinary dance band remote featuring "Ramon Raquello and His Orchestra" that is interrupted by news flashes about strange explosions on Mars. Meanwhile Princeton Univeristy professor Richard Pierson 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 relates the events. The meteorite unscrews, revealing itself as a rocket machine. 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. 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. 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 despairing 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?"
There are about 15 characters in WOTW, plus parts for ads and news, plus 6 parts in Horror at 45 RPM.