Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Greatest Old Time Radio Show Of All Time

old time radio star orson welles
Orson Welles in 1937 (age 21),
photographed by 
Carl Van Vechten
Orson Welles is one of the best known old time radio stars because of the radio show that he did on October 30, 1938, entitled, War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells. Orson Welles had a radio show, which was called, "Mercury Theatre on the Air." The show was on at the same time as the "Chase and Sanborn Hour," which starred Edgar Bergen and his sidekick puppet, Charlie McCarthy. This show was the most popular radio show at the time and Orson Welles was trying to come up with ways to get listeners to tune into his show instead.

Orson Welles decided to do an radio adaption of "War of the Worlds" and hired a writer to re-write the story a bit, in order to update it and make it more exciting. The show started with an announcement presenting Orson Welles and introducing the story line. Welles then went on the air and began the introduction of the story. A weather report chimed in as Welles was finishing his introduction and then, the music of Ramon Raquello was said to be being broadcast from the Hotel Park Plaza in New York. In reality, this was all being done at the studio, although the audience believed that these broadcasts were, indeed, from different locations.

A special bulletin came over the air announcing that there was an explosion on Mars. There were other special news bulletins coming in that an alien craft had landed and the aliens were attacking in New Jersey and that people were dead. There was an fake announcement by the Secretary of the Interior, calling Americans to arms. 

old time radio show headline
New York Times Headline
Although Orson Welles announced several times throughout the broadcast that this was only a story, many people did not hear those announcements because they had turned the dial from listening to the Chase and Sanborn Show during the commercial break. People panicked and called the police and radio stations, loading up their vehicles, trying to escape the cities.

It was not until a few hours later that people discovered that Martians had not invaded the United States. Many people were upset and outraged, even suing Welles. Because the public was so used to believing everything that was broadcast over the radio, they believed this story. 

Orson Welles was a great actor, director, producer and writer. He co-wrote, directed, produced and starred in the movie, Citizen Kane, which many film critics have named the best movie of all times. The radio broadcast of War of the Worlds is the most famous broadcast in radio history. His many accomplishments as a writer, director and actor have been overshadowed by the broadcast of this old time radio show classic.

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