The Truth About Halloween 1938

Halloween conjures up memories of one of the spookiest events in broadcast history: Orson Welles’ radio dramatization of the War of the Worlds, which aired on Halloween eve in 1938. “No single program in American broadcasting has inspired more fear, controversy, and endless fascination,” writes W. Joseph Campbell, author of Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism.

In the video below, Campbell explains that the narrative that listeners by the tens, or even hundreds of thousands were gripped by mass panic, believing the Earth was under Martian attack, was largely a misrepresentation by the media. Campbell further describes his research and the motivations behind this media-driven myth in an interview with Big Think, noting that “[f]or newspapers, Welles’ radio spoof offered an irresistible opportunity to rebuke radio as an unreliable, untrustworthy, and immature medium.”

2 thoughts on “The Truth About Halloween 1938

  1. thank you for mentioning this – I always thought that printed press put an abnormal emphasis on this incident, hurting the intelligence of the radio audience in the process. the interview is a little dry in figures, though – very curious to know what exactly was the overall number of listeners at that time to put things into perspective.

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