The War of the Worlds

the most (in)famous radio broadcast of all time

The War of the Worlds

Re-Imagined Radio has for several years celebrated World Audio Drama Day with an adaptation of "The War of the Worlds," perhaps the most (in)famous radio story ever broadcast. The story is about an invasion of Earth by beings from the planet Mars. The use of "break in" news announcements portrays live events unfolding around the country. Believable dialogue and realistic sound effects create a sense of urgency in listeners' imaginations.

It's a great story. One we enjoy sharing.

2022 Episode

The War of the Worlds (2022)
17 October 2022

Re-Imagined Radio has celebrated the anniversary of "The War of the Worlds" several times by re-telling the story. This year, on the occasion of its 84th anniversary, we explore earlier experiments with radio storytelling that may have influenced Orson Welles's radio adaptation of the 1898 novel by H. G. Welles. In addition to samples from these earlier radio stories, interviews with Welles provide additional insight for this episode, "The War of the Worlds: Possible Influences."

Listen

Optimized for radio broadcast.

Credits

Curated, Produced, and Hosted by John F. Barber
Sound Design, Music, and Post Production by Marc Rose of Fuse Audio Design
Promotional Graphics by Kathy Klaus

Background

"The War of the Worlds" is a legendary radio story. Perhaps the most famous ever told. Adapated for radio in 1938 by Orson Welles and The Mercury Theatre on the Air from the 1898 novel by H. G. Welles, this radio broadcast is alleged to have caused mass confusion (panic?) among its listeners through its use of realistic sounding news bulletins and other narrative techniques.

Although "The War of the Worlds" is called the best, it was not the first to use unusual narrative techniques. Earlier experiments with radio storytelling may have influenced Orson Welles and his adaptation. For this episode, we explore five earlier experiments with radio storytelling that may have influenced Welles and his radio storytelling. And, we include seldom heard interviews with Welles to provide additional insight.

The five earlier radio stories we explore are "The Fall of the City" and "Air Raid," "The Crimson Wizard," "The Minister Is Murdered," and "Broadcasting the Barricades." The Welles interviews include one given the day after the first broadcast of "The War of the Worlds," several over time with film director Peter Bogdonovitch, and several television programs many years after the initial broadcast.

"The Fall of the City" and "Air Raid," were both written by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish. Both used a radio reporter describing events as they unfolded. Welles was that reporter in "The Fall of the City" and he described everything he saw and heard in the central plaza of an unnamed city where thousands of citizens awaited the arrival of an unnamed dictator. Inspired in part by the growing fascism in Germany and Italy just before the start of World War II, and broadcast 11 April 1937, "The Fall of the City" is often cited as the best example of the artistic potential of radio broadcasting in terms of both stylistic innovation and social power. LEARN more and listen here.

MacLeish's second radio play was "Air Raid." Inspired by the attack on Guernica, Spain, by German airplanes during the Spanish Civil War, "Air Raid" was broadcast on The Columbia Workshop, 27 October 1938, just 3 DAYS before "The War of the Worlds." MacLeish wanted Orson Welles to read the part of the location reporter. But, citing his full schedule with The Mercury Theatre on the Air, Welles declined. However, a photograph shows Welles talking with writer MacLeish, actor Ray Collins, and director William N. Robson during a rehearsal for "Air Raid." So, Welles was certainly familiar with the production.

Surely these experiences gave Welles ideas about what was possible with the new medium of radio, then just a decade old. And, possibly they influenced his production of "The War of the Worlds." For example, Welles used reporter Carl Phillips as a major narrator for his adaptation of "The War of the Worlds."

"The Crimson Wizard" is another possible influence. Broadcast by WGN, Chicago, Illinois, every Friday beginning 30 September 1938, the month before Welles's own "The War of the Worlds," episodes of "The Crimson Wizard" were extensively transcribed in the color graphics section of The Sunday Tribune.

Episodes featured the brilliant hunchback scientist Peter Quill using his scientific ingenuity to defend America against a Communist spy ring, The Red Circle.

There is no direct evidence that Welles was influenced in any way by "The Crimson Wizard" radio series in his own adaptation of "The War of the Worlds." But, it's possible that he knew of this radio drama series which would have hinted again at the potential for different approaches to radio storytelling.

"The Minister Is Murdered!" by Erich Ebermeyer was broadcast from Berlin, at 8:00 PM, 25 September 1930. According to newspaper reports, soon after its beginning, "The Minister Is Murdered!" was interrupted by a break in news bulletin about the assassination of the German foreign minister, returning from a visit abroad.

Ebermeyer based his fictional radio drama on the real life murder of Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau in 1922 by right-wing extremists shortly after a treaty signing with the Soviet Union. Listeners were confused. They thought then current Foreign Minister, Julius Curtius, who had attended a conference in Geneva, had just been murdered. The radio news bulletin seemed credible, especially since Adolph Hitler, testifying that same day before the Supreme Court in Leipzig, promised retribution for sanctions placed on Germany at the end of World War I, November 1918. Was a right wing coup underway?

Welles lived and worked in New York City at the time. The broadcast of "The Minister Is Murdered!", and how it was interrupted by a break in news announcement, was reported there. Although there is no record that he knew anything about this broadcast, or that it influenced in any way his narrative technique, it's not unreasonable to suggest that Welles could have been aware of the broadcast of "The Minister Is Murdered!" and its audience response as he produced his radio adaptation of "The War of the Worlds."

"Broadcasting the Barricades" was broadcast twelve years prior, on a snowy Saturday night, January 16, 1926, by BBC Radio. Written by Father Ronald Arbuthnott Knox, an English theologian, Catholic priest, and mystery writer—his "Ronald Knox's Ten Commandments," written in 1939 are still used as a reference by contemporary mystery writers—"Broadcasting the Barricades" originated in Edinburgh, Scotland, from Station 2EH, and was relayed throughout the United Kingdom by Station 2LO, in London.

Father Knox wrote and announced the program which consisted of news bulletins about a variety of subjects. Cricket matches. An Unemployed Demonstration in Trafalgar Square led by Mr. Poppleberry, Secretary of the National Movement For Abolishing Theatre Queues. The arrival in Southampton of famous American film actress Miss Joy Gush. The destruction of the Big Ben clock tower. The hanging of Mr. Wotherspoon, the Minister of Traffic. And the destruction by explosion of the Savoy Hotel.

These earlier radio stories could each have influenced Orson Welles and his adaptation of "The War of the Worlds." Which one do you think is the winner? You'll have to listen to this episode of Re-Imagined Radio to learn the answer.

While you are listening, here is additonal information about "The War of the Worlds."

In 1898, English author H.G. Wells published The War of the Worlds, one of the earliest literary works to examine conflict between human and extraterrestrials.

In 1938, Howard E. Koch adapted Wells' novel for radio, highlighting the conflict through a series of "break in" news announcements to create a sense of immediacy surrounding reports of Martian metal cylinders falling to Earth and a group of tripod-like fighting machines wreaking havoc in New Jersey and New York City. Directed by and starring Orson Welles, age twenty-three, and performed by a twenty seven-piece orchestra and ten actors of The Mercury Theatre on the Air, 30 October 1938, "The War of the Worlds" was believed by many listeners to be reports of an actual invasion of Earth by beings from the planet Mars. Although not the first radio program to create confusion among listeners (LEARN more), "The War of the Worlds" is considered the most (in)famous radio broadcast of all time, and continues to provoke interest and inspiration.

Iterations

The War of the Worlds has been reprised several times . . .

18 October 2021
Featuring The Voices, sound design, music, and post production by three-time Emmy Award winning sound designer Marc Rose, and a script adaption by John Barber, Re-Imagined Radio raised the bar for compelling performances of this classic bit of radio storytelling.

29 October 2013
Public Broadcasting Service
Part of the American Experience history series. An account of the original radio broadcast.

30 November 2012
A re-recorded version, Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds: The New Generation was released with narration from Liam Neeson and new versions of the original songs sung by Gary Barlow, Joss Stone, and Maverick Sabre. Listen / download the tracks from both albums.

2008
Tom Roe, a founder and program director of WGXC Radio (90.7 FM), a program division of Wave Farm, performed, for a number of years, The War of the Worlds as a radio broadcast. Each year he used current international wars and conflicts to foreground the original story. Listen to Roe's 2008 broadcast, The War of the War of the Worlds.

9 November 2007
War of the Servers, a film by machinima group Lit Fuse Films; based on Wayne's musical. Strange beings called Mingebags invade the servers of the popular game Garry's Mod. One player must try to survive while searching for his friends amid the chaos and war.

1981
Highlights from Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, including the radio edits, was released by CBS.

1978
Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds produced by composer Jeff Wayne. This musical retelling of the novel by H. G. Wells features Academy Award nominated actor Richard Burton, Justin Hayward (of The Moody Blues), Chris Thompson (of Manfred Mann), Phil Lynott (of Thin Lizzy), Julie Covington (of Evita and Rock Follies), and David Essex (of Evita and The China Plates). Most of the lyrics on the album were written by former Elton John lyricist Gary Osborne. The official album comes with several paintings by Peter Goodfellow, Geoff Taylor and Michael Trim that help to illustrate the story from beginning to end. To promote the album's release, a special "radio edit" version was produced and distributed to radio stations in an attempt to make the concept album more accessible to radio listeners.

31 October 1975
American Broadcasting Company
The Night that Panicked America, a made-for-television movie dramatizing events around the original "The War of the Worlds" broadcast. Of note are the scenes recreating the original radio broadcast as a live interplay between actors, Foley artists, producers, and network executives.

30 October 1974
Providence, Rhode Island
Radio station WPRO aired a modernized version of The War of the Worlds. Following complaints from listeners, the Federal Communications Commission open an inquiry, and officially reprimanded the station for airing the program. This was the first time a program like this ever received an official reprimand.

31 October 1968
Buffalo, New York
Radio station WKBW, under program director Jefferson Kaye, modernized the radio drama, mixing reports of Martian attacks with popular songs. Kaye interrupted the show with a disclaimer. The show was repeated in 1971 and 1975.

1968
The original broadcast of The War of the Worlds released on vinyl record. Welles received no royalties.

9 September 1957
New York
Studio One
Edward R. Murrow adds perspective to the original radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds in the television docudrama The Night America Trembled. The show was broadcast live from Studio One. There was no mention of Welles.

12 February 1949
Quito, Ecuador
A crowd gathered outside the building housing Radio Quito and El Commercio, the newspaper, angry at being deceived. Eventually the crowd burned the building, looted equipment, and smashed the presses.

12 November 1944
Santiago, Chile
The first remake, written by William Steele (who had written for Welles's The Shadow) and Raul Zento. They rewrote Koch's script for the Cooperativa Vitalicia radio network.

Promotion

The War of the Worlds web poster by Kathy Klaus (240 x 356)
The War of the Worlds web poster 2022

The War of the Worlds cover poster by Kathy Klaus (820 x 356)
The War of the Worlds cover poster 2022

The War of the Worlds trailer poster by Kathy Klaus (1920 x 1080)
The War of the Worlds cover poster 2022

The War of the Worlds social media poster by Kathy Klaus (2000 x 2000)
The War of the Worlds social media poster 2022

The War of the Worlds full poster by Kathy Klaus (2000 x 3000)
The War of the Worlds poster 2022

2021 Episode

The War of the Worlds (2021)
18 October 2021

Program Guide for The War of the Worlds
Re-Imagined Radio celebrated the 83rd anniversary of “The War of the Worlds” original broadcast, and World Audio Drama Day with our radio adaptation of this classic radio drama. We re-imagined the storyline, keeping parts of this classic radio drama, and adding new content, placing all in present day Vancouver, Washington. We used local landmarks and characters. We introduced new plot twists and perspectives. We incorporated cinematic sound effects and ambiences, all custom created for this episode. And, we introduced "The Voices," our new ensemble of amazing voice actors.

It was cracking good use of words, music, sound effects, and imagination to create worlds at war and a way to be in the middle of the action.

Broadcasts and streams by our local, regional, and international partners. Archival recordings available for on demand listening.

Listen

Optimized for radio broadcast.

Enhanced for superior listening experience with headphones while sitting comfortably.

The Voices

John F. Barber as Host
A helpful guide throughout the episode.

Marc Rose as The Martian
Provides a different perspective on the invasion of "The Blue Planet."

Bradley Richardson as Museum Director
Richardson is the real life Director of Clark County Historical Museum, Vancouver, WA.

Patricia Blem as Professor Rowena Pierson
Noted scientist and astronomer. Retired from Princeton University, now living in Vancouver, WA.

Rod Hill as Weather Announcer
Hill is the real life meteorologist for KGW 8 TV, Portland, OR.

Laurence Overmire as Carl Phillips
Reporter for local radio station.

Jeff Pollard as Grover Wilmuth
Owner of farm in Battle Ground, WA, site of Martian capsule landing.

Bruce Miles as Captain Lance Lansing
Signal Corp, State Militia. Officious and arrogant.

Stephanie Crowley as Ham Radio operator
A lonely voice reaching out for connection.

News montage segments by Erin Buckley, Laura Duyn, Devin James, Billy Bryan, Jeff Pollard, and Stephanie Crowley.

Credits

Curated, Produced, and Hosted by John F. Barber
Sound Design, Music, and Post Production by Marc Rose of Fuse Audio Design
Social Media by Regina Carol Social Media Management
Promotional Graphics by Holly Slocum Design

Excerpts, Exhibitions

"The War of the Worlds Sample." Lights Out Listening Group, The Old Hairdressers, Glasgow, Scotland, 17 Nov. 2021.
Event Program

Responses

What a great end to my day and my week to have a discussion with you and Marc Rose about our passion to work in the audio dramatic field, and a personal joy for me to find more folks out there continuing the flame with such an incredible collection of professional and inventive work!

[And your adaptation of The War of the Worlds] . . . Wow! Simply Wow! This version has now risen to my top ten audio dramas of all time. I loved it! Thanks so much for the shout out at the end! And there's a part of me that felt a twinge in my heart knowing that Marc [Rose] had a key part in unravelling the mystery of the Alien's agenda!

Superb acting! Fun and inventive script! I could pick out the phrasing of both [Orson] Welles and [H.G.] Wells in various parts of it. That's awesome!

It's my pleasure to share Re-Imagined Radio on The Mutual Audio Network and to feature you on The Sonic Society with your [adaptation of] The War of the Worlds on October 31st! I'm so excited to get this out [for] Halloween!
—Jack Ward
The Sonic Society
Mutual Audio Network


I just heard The War of the Worlds re-creation on X-ray radio. That was incredible!!! Great production and local angles. Really well done. Better than the original.
—Dan Packard
PDXRadio.com


The episode was amazing! It scared the daylights out of me. With its different twist, I think Orson Welles would have been proud of this performance.
—Gerald Gaule
Owner and manager, Community Growth Network Radido


I just got done listening to The War of the Worlds radio play. I have to say I really did enjoy it. The War of the Worlds is one of my favorite books by H.G. Wells. I think that Orson Welles would have enjoyed your production. I like the added commentary from the perspective of the invading aliens. I always like it when people take a new spin on an old story to make it their own, and it works great in telling this tale.
—JD Carpenter

Promotion
Interviews

"Voice Actors in Portland Resurrecting Radio Classic 'War of the Worlds' in October"
A television interview produced by Steve Redlin of KGW, Portland, Oregon, 22 Sep. 2021.

"Sonic Speaks 0602: Re-Imagined Radio," 7 Nov. 2021.
Interview featuring John Barber and Marc Rose of Re-Imagined Radio and Jack Ward, The Sonic Society and The Mutual Audio Network
Or, listen at these popular listening posts
The Sonic Society website
iHeart Radio
Spotify
RSS Feed Link

Playlists

Sonic Society #704-Radio Images, The Sonic Society and The Mutual Audio Drama Network, 31 Oct. 2021.
Both The Sonic Society and The Mutual Audio Drama Network included "The War of the Worlds" in their podcast playlist and archive as "Sonic Society #704-Radio Images" as not only an exemplary podcast but a fitting celebration of World Audio Drama Day. The Sonic Society said, "Re-Imagined Radio presents an incredible re-imagined look at Orson Welles’ and H.G. Wells' tale of Martian Invasion with their 2021 “War of the Worlds”! As we celebrate this World Audio Drama Day one day later! It’s Audio Drama time!"

Graphics

The War of the Worlds web poster by Holly Slocum, Holly Slocum Design (240 x 356)
The War of the Worlds web poster 2021

The War of the Worlds cover poster by Holly Slocum, Holly Slocum Design (820 x 356)
The War of the Worlds cover poster 2021

The War of the Worlds social media poster by Holly Slocum, Holly Slocum Design (2000 x 2000)
The War of the Worlds social media poster 2021

The War of the Worlds full poster by Holly Slocum, Holly Slocum Design (2000 x 3000)
The War of the Worlds poster 2021

2018 Episode

The War of the Worlds (2018)
30 October 2018

Re-Imagined Radio presented a live performance by Metropolitan Performing Arts actors and other community volunteers at Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver, Washington. Produced by Re-Imagined Radio. Audience count: 336. We celebrated World Audio Drama Day and the 80th anniversary of the original broadcast of this classic radio drama. Streamed live on KXRW-FM, Vancouver, Washington. Archival recording available for on demand listening.

Listen

Recorded live performance.

Cast

Barbara Richardson as Program Announcer
John Barber as Studio Announcer
Calvin Lieurance as Weather Announcer
Kristin Heller as Meridan Announcer
Greg Shilling as Carl Phillips (radio reporter)
Rebecca Kramer as Professor Rowena Pierson (female astronomer, retired)
Nick D'ettorre as Policeman
Ian Hanley as Mr. Grover Wilmuth (farmer)
Brett Allred as Montgomery Smith (Brigadier General, State Militia)
Joe Clemmons as Harry McDonald (Vice President, Operations)
Nick D'ettorre as Captain Lansing (Signal Corp)
Steve Becker as Secretary (of the Interior)
Ian Hanley as Artillery Officer
ACalvin Lieurance as rtillery Gunner
Arianna Dorenbosch as Artillery Observer
Kristin Heller as Lieutenant Voght
Joe Clemons as Radio Operator #1
Barbara Richardson as Radio Operator #2
Brett Allred as Radio Operator #3
Nick D'ettorre as Radio Operator #4
Greg Shilling as Radio Operator #5
Arianna Dorenbosch as Roof Top Announcer
Calvin Lieurance as Male Survivor 1
Ian Hanley as Male Survivor 2
Steve Becker as Male Survivor 3
Kristin Heller as Female Survivor 1
Arianna Dorenbosch as Female Survivor 2
Barbara Richardson as Female Survivor 3

Promotion

Re-Imagined Radio at the Kiggins Theater
KXRW "Radio Voices from Our Community" host Mike Selig visited Kiggins Theater in downtown Vancouver to watch the 80th Anniversary performance of The War of the Worlds, the radio drama that panicked a nation, and produced this abbreviated version of the performance. Also available here.

The Common Good Interviews
A two-part series produced by Joe Clemons, host of The Common Good, KXRW Radio, Vancouver, WA, highlighting Re-Imagined Radio. Part 1 rebroadcasted the 30 October 2018 performance of The War of the Worlds. More information at the archival webpage for this program maintained by XRAY FM radio. LEARN more.
Part 1, 11 June 2020

Part 2, 9 July 2020, features producer John Barber talking about the performance and some of the challenges of re-imagining classic radio dramas for contemporary audiences. More information at the archival webpage for this program maintained by XRAY FM radio. LEARN more.

Wade, Adeena. Re-Enactment of Historic Radio Broadcast. Story Hub, College of Arts and Sciences, Washington State University, 25 Oct. 2018.

2014 Episode

War of the Worlds (2014)
30 October 2014

Re-Imagined Radio presented a live performance by the Willamette Radio Workshop at Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver, Washington. Audience count: SOLD OUT. We celebrated World Audio Drama Day and the 76th anniversary of the original broadcast, 30 Ocober 1938. No recording available.

Press & Feedback

Facebook page
'War of the Worlds' Reimagined at Kiggins. The Columbian, 30 Oct. 2014.

2013 Episode

30 October 2013

Re-Imagined Radio presented a live performance by the Willamette Radio Workshop at Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver, Washington. Audience count: SOLD OUT. We celebrated World Audio Drama Day and the most famous radio broadcast of all time on the occasion of its 75th anniversary. No recording available.

Promotion

75 Years of War of the Worlds. OPB, 30 Oct. 2013.

Gallery
Martians with moustaches. Believe!

Martians with Moustaches
A curated gallery exhibition of works created by students in my Fall 2013 DTC 354 Digital Storytelling course. I published an essay about this course, my students' works, and our curatorial efforts as Martians, Moustaches, and Radio Drama. A Case Study for Sound Art Curation by Re-Creation in Leonardo Electronic Almanac (Dec. 2018). LEARN more.

The course included a transmedia storytelling component. Transmedia storytelling seeks to use specific features and affordances (potentials for particular actions) of multiple digital media/technologies to make storytelling more immersive and interactive. Usually, a transmedia story begins with a "base story." Specific media are then selected from their ability to tell some part of the story in ways not possible in more traditional storytelling. For example, if a story involves a number of brief narrative sequences, the transmedia storyteller might utilize some form of social media as the vehicle for posting these sequences to multiple readers/participants. The result is to, using text, social media, video or animation, and sound, facilitate narrative and storytelling in ways not possible using only a single medium.

Students explored transmedial storytelling experiences based on some aspect of the original broadcast of War of the Worlds. The exhibition ran throughout November at Nouspace Gallery & Media Lounge located in the Northbank Artists Gallery at 1005 Main Street, Vancouver, Washington.

Selected Student Projects

A Transmedia Experience by Morgan Hutchinson

War of the Worlds by Ryan Kellipio

Pierson's Notes by Geoffrey Matheson

War of the Worlds Revisited by Angela Morrelli