Today in 1938, 'The War of the Worlds' Convinced People the Alien Invasion Was Real

Plug your ears in and relive this epic moment in audio storytelling history.

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It’s Halloween Eve, 1938. Music washes through the radio speakers. Then, the broadcast is interrupted for an urgent announcement:

The aliens have landed, and they mean war.

This is how Orson Welles’ radio drama The War of the Worlds had people jumping out of their skin on that night. The play unfolded on-air as if the events were happening in real time. It was vivid enough to convince many that the planet was really under fire, despite several indications over the broadcast that it was a work of fiction, adapted from H. G. Wells’ novel of the same name.

Pandemonium, for some of those listening, ensued. Police stormed CBS studios and attempted to have the performance shut down. Just how massive a hysteria was caused is disputed, but Orson Welles undisputedly crowned himself king of gripping radio drama.

His storytelling technique — putting the listener right in the action as it unfolds — is the same device that helped Sarah Koenig make podcast history with her non-fiction radio drama Serial.

Do your ears a favor and have a listen.

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