This Day In Crime History

October 30, 1938: 'The War Of The Worlds' Radio Drama Causes Mass Panic

People mistook the broadcast as a news report and believed aliens were invading the country.

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On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles narrated an adapted performance of H.G. Wells’ novel “The War of the Worlds” as a Halloween special radio drama. Many listeners tuning in mistook the dramatic production as a report, inciting panic about alien invasions throughout the country.

Presented as a simulated news bulletin without commercial interruption, the show blurred the boundaries of fiction by approaching the sci-fi event as a series of emergency reports. The program did, however, introduce itself as fictional — but many missed the explanation and took the scenario as fact.

Police were called in during the production in attempt to halt its broadcasting, as it was blamed for inciting a mob. The extent to which mass riots were actually caused has since been scrutinized, with many saying the amount of destruction that resulted was largely or entirely exaggerated.

Afterward, the radio station that ran the program was criticized as irresponsible and deceptive, with many calling for the Federal Communications Commission to step in and regulate similar productions in the future.

[Photo: Getty Images]

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