Friday, August 12, 2022

Radio host terrifies public with NJ alien story

 In 1938 a California radio station had a program  with a false emergency interruption to warn listeners about an alien attack in New Jersey. The episode begins with an introductory monologue based closely on the opening of the original novel, after which the program takes on the format of an evening of typical radio programming being periodically interrupted by news bulletins. The first few bulletins interrupt a program of live music and are relatively calm reports of unusual explosions on Mars followed by a seemingly unrelated report of an unknown object falling on a farm in Grover's Mill, New Jersey. The crisis escalates dramatically when a correspondent reporting live from Grover's Mill describes creatures emerging from what is evidently an alien spacecraft. When local officials approach the aliens waving a flag of truce, the "monsters" respond by incinerating them and others nearby with a heat ray which the on-scene reporter describes in a panic until the audio feed abruptly goes dead. This is followed by a rapid series of news updates detailing the beginning of a devastating alien invasion and the military's futile efforts to stop it. The first portion of the episode climaxes with another live report from the rooftop of a Manhattan radio station. The correspondent describes crowds fleeing clouds of poison smoke released by giant Martian "war machines" and "dropping like flies" as the gas approaches his location. Eventually he coughs and falls silent, and a lone ham radio operator asks, "Is there anyone on the air? Isn't there... anyone?" with no response. The program takes its first break thirty minutes after Welles's introduction.

In the days following the adaptation, the media expressed widespread outrage. Some newspapers and public figures described the program's news-bulletin format as deceptive, resulting in an outcry against the broadcasters and calls for FCC regulation. Welles issued an apology at a hastily called news conference the following morning, but no disciplinary action was taken. The broadcast and subsequent publicity brought Welles, then 23 years old, to the attention of the general public and established his reputation as an innovative storyteller. This is a good instance of mass misinformation and aliens at the same time. I also found this interesting because the broadcaster set the alien invasion in New Jersey.

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