Oct 30, 2008

Orson Welles' War of the Worlds 70th anniversary broadcast


with the help of of Plains FM programme director Petal Largie, I re-broadcast Orson Welles' classic elaborate Halloween prank and seminal intervention into radio space on the evening of its 70th anniversary, at 10:30pm on the night of Thursday October 30, 2008.

the original radio play is archived in its entirety on the website of its umbrella broadcast series, Mercury Theatre on the Air, here

this is the email i sent out about the broadcast:

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tonight, for those in the Canterbury region... a special Halloween broadcast... 10:30 - 11:30, Plains FM 96:9

Orson Welles’ radiophonic adaptation of H G Wells novel "The War of the Worlds" was originally broadcast as an elaborate Halloween prank on the 30th of October 1938, on the radio drama programme the Mercury Theatre on the Air.

Scripted as a series of increasingly worrisome news reports introjected into a simulcast of a live concert, the reports depicted an evidently real-time alien invasion of New Jersey, replicating the semi-documentary style of Wells' classic science fiction text for the medium of radio.

The legends state that listeners, used to transparent journalism, and led into the the drama of the incident by its flawless scripting, thought what they were hearing was actually happening, with mass hysteria the inevitable result.

Other commentators have pointed to the fact that the notion of a national panic, in which hundreds of thousands of people left their homes, and built makeshift gasmasks and sandbagged shelters protected with armories, may itself have arisen due to media exaggeration of the figures in order to dramatize the panic.

Welles' later career includes some of the major achievements in 20th Century American filmmaking. But War of the Worlds remains as a touchstone moment when art and life broke into each other to reconfigure our ways of thinking about media. As a study in simulation and crowd dynamics, the broadcast has been closely listened to by artists, sociologists, and the military ever since.

All over the world in the next two nights, creative radio makers are engaging with the spirit of this seventy year old radio play, with artistic interventions which shift the original collapse of the fictional and the real into contemporary formations.

Plains FM 96:9 wll simply be airing the original broadcast in its entirety, your chance to hear, over the airwaves, a proto-media artwork whose seismic shocks around the intelligent manipulation of its medium are still traveling to our ears.