War of the Worlds

Happy 75th birthday, Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.

Having lived much of my childhood close to Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, this broadcast was always mystical to me. I’ve driven past Grover’s Mill, located in West Windsor Township, and imagined what it would have been like if Martians had landed in the farm fields nearby.

And I’ve thought about how easy it was to convince many radio listeners that the events described in the broadcast were real. People were used to getting their news from the radio. They were used to emergency interruptions with news about the war. People were nervous about the state of the world, and this broadcast, although many people understood an alien invasion is the work of fiction, were primed to cognitively accept this kind of disaster. The medium legitimized the story; reading a book is one thing, but a news story on the radio lends authority to the story, despite the prevalence of drama on the radio.

Imagine yourself in your sitting room a night in October of 1938, with the radio as the centerpiece. And spend the hour listening to the broadcast.

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