Tomorrow marks 75 years since one of the great mass media hoaxes—accidental—of the Media Age: Orson Welles’ broadcast of The World of The Worlds:
And hey, holy crap, Welles had that awesome voice when he was 23 years old.
Most of the 6 million who tuned into Welles’ “Mercury Theater on the Air” innovative adaptation of H.G. Wells’ sci-fi classic about a Martian invasion realized it was drama. But because of its realistic news bulletin format, some believed aliens from the Red Planet had actually landed and overrun the small town of Grover’s Mill, N.J., and were on the move through the rest of the country.
Even in this pre-Twitter and Facebook era, the reaction was instantaneous. Listeners called into Chicago newspapers in a panic during the broadcast, while in San Francisco people fretted that the Martians were heading West. And in New Jersey, National Guardsmen were calling their armories to find out if they needed to report.
PBS is airing a documentary about the experience tonight. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, some 90-year-old guy is still hiding in a barn.