'War of the Worlds' 75th Anniversary Still Scaring Up Controversy

Image: 'War of the Worlds' 75th Anniversary Still Scaring Up Controversy Orson Welles meets H.G. Wells in San Antonio, Texas, on Nov. 30, 1940, two years after the famous Martian invasion broadcast.

Wednesday, 30 Oct 2013 01:11 PM

By Clyde Hughes

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Orson Welles' famous "War of the Worlds" broadcast is still creating controversy as Wednesday's 75th anniversary of its broadcast is being recognized.

The radio drama, fashioned after H.G. Wells' novel "War of the Worlds," said aliens were attacking Earth and sent many panicking in the New Jersey and New York area.

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Bob Sanders, 81, told The Star-Ledger he remembers the fear being all too real for his father and the people of Grovers Mill, N.J., where Welles said the attack was taking place on Oct. 30, 1938.

Welles told his listeners that Martians had landed in town, killing 7,000 soldiers, and then marched through the Watchung Mountains and into the New Jersey swamps. Equipped with death rays, the space invaders reportedly began advancing on New York City, Chicago, and St. Louis.

"William Dock saw the water tower in the moonlight, thought it was a spacecraft," Sanders told the Star-Ledger of a neighbor's actions. "He took a couple shots at it with his double-barreled shotgun. We sat down and listened to it on the radio. Some of the local people put their families in their cars and drove out of town."

But Slate.com wrote Monday about a new study states the panic around the fake broadcast was also faked, hyped up by newspapers to hopes to discredit radio broadcasts to advertisers.

Professors Jefferson Pooley of Muhlenburg College and Michael Socolow of the University of Maine wrote for Slate that most of the panic was pure myth. Citing ratings and surveys taken after the broadcast, including one by CBS which aired Welles' faux story, the two revealed that far fewer people actually heard the show than were reported in hysterics.

"In the first place, most people didn’t hear it," CBS’s Frank Stanton would later say, wrote Pooley and Socolow. "But those who did hear it, looked at it is as a prank and accepted it that way."

National Public Radio said Slate believed newspapers intentionally hyped the broadcast in hopes to hurt radio, stating the industry wanted to "seize the opportunity presented by Welles' program to discredit radio as a source of news. The newspaper industry sensationalized the panic to prove to advertisers, and regulators, that radio management was irresponsible and not to be trusted."

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Related stories:

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Welles' Oscar for 'Citizen Kane' Sells for $861K

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