You probably know about Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of ‘The War of the Worlds’ and the terror it caused across the United States. But have you ever heard it? Here’s the full 57 minute broadcast, which came live from the Mercury Theater in New York.
Welles cleverly used rising tensions in Europe caused by the Nazi threat to dupe Americans into believing Earth was about to experience a Martian invasion.
Many of the six million listeners who heard the broadcast had tuned in late to listen to a musical guest on the Charlie McCarthy show. The performance was soon interrupted by a series of authentic-sounding and increasingly urgent news announcements featuring a Professor Pearson (actually Orson Welles himself) and others describing meteorite activity, sightings of red, disc-shaped objects in the sky and the presence of a mysterious gas. More reports began to come in as more actors were brought onto the stage, by which time listeners thought they were witnessing a full-stage invasion.
It’s estimated that roughly 1.5 million listeners believed that their country – the planet – was being attacked by alien invaders and mass panic ensued.
It’s one of the 20th. century’s greatest hoaxes, and certainly goes some way to explaining how a decade or so later science fiction and almost fanatical levels of paranoia took hold of the USA before and during the Cold War.