The radio was once an instrument of entertainment in homes in the early 1900s. There was no television for families to watch and view stories that were told by actors. For many families, turning on the radio was one of the first things that they did when they woke up in the morning and one of the last things that they did before going to bed so that there was some type of noise in the home. There were radio shows that featured drama and comedy as well as shows that featured news content. One of the oldest radio shows is still discussed today as it was so realistic that it frightened some people into planning for the end of the world.
Orson Welles took to the airwaves in 1938 after he formed Mercury Theatre. Welles was asked if he thought that listeners would want to hear “The War of the World,” a novel written by H.G. Wells. Welles didn’t think that people would take to the story at first and even laughed at the thought of it being told on the radio. However, the story was changed so that it took place in New York and New Jersey instead of a field in England. Details in the story were also changed just enough so that it would fit in with the types of shows that listeners already enjoyed at the time.
Welles made the decision to direct the story for the radio and would narrate it as well. The story was told on Halloween and was told in two different settings. When listeners heard the first part of the story, they were treated to different songs, but there were news bulletins between the songs that captured the attention of those who were listening to the details. The updates started occurring close together and had an urgency behind them. Welles told listeners about an alien invasion and how everyone needed to prepare. During the second part of the story, listeners were told about someone who had survived the attack as officials started looking for any sign of life left after the attack took place. Welles ended the story by telling listeners that the aliens got sick because they couldn’t handle the germs on the planet.
There was information at the beginning of the broadcast that let listeners know that it was only a story, but for those who didn’t hear that statement, they thought that the world was being taken over by aliens. At the end of the broadcast, Welles did let listeners know that the story was a joke and that they would be alright.