Dear Friend and Reader:
For his weekly program on Halloween eve of 1938, a young Orson Welles tried something new. For some months, his Mercury Theater on the Air had run on Columbia Broadcasting System (the CBS Radio Network) with a small listenership. On the evening of Oct. 30, they decided to try doing a science fiction program.
They had acquired the rights to a short novel written by the British sci-fi author H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds. (Wells and Welles were both of English descent, both had George in their name, but they were not related.) That story, about an invasion from Mars, had been published 40 years earlier, in 1898. It was an old and well-known work at the time, read by many children and recreated in comic books.
Welles, however, thought the story made a boring script, so his writers updated it into a series of spot-news reports about an invasion from Mars that cut into a seemingly ordinary dance music program. This was a new technique at the time, the earliest version of the “breaking news” stripe at the bottom of the CNN screen: interrupting regular programming for something more important.
At the beginning of the program an announcer said clearly that the show would be a dramatization of the novel. Then at about 40 minutes, an announcer again said it was a dramatization, and then finally at the end Welles said it was a Halloween prank. But that did not matter; the genie was out of the bottle.