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Historic 'War of the Worlds' Gets Contemporary Treatment

Orson Welles radio show discovers social media and a new audience

EVANSTON, Ill. --- On Oct. 30, Northwestern University undergraduates -- far too young to have experienced or perhaps even heard of the “War of the Worlds” -- will give the infamous broadcast a 21st technology spin as they listen to the show that 75 years ago to the day shocked radio audiences.

While enjoying Martian-themed snacks and drinks and the radio show in its entirety, the undergraduates will tweet and post their reactions to what writers in the late 1930s called the “Panic Broadcast” and the “Night America Trembled.” The show is about an invasion from Mars.

The broadcast is part of #WOTW75, an international venture coordinating a simultaneous listening of “War of the Worlds” and asking audiences for their responses “as it happens” via posts and tweets with the hashtag #WOTW75.

Listen to the broadcast in the player below.

At the show’s conclusion, students will take part in a fireside discussion led by Chicago media critic and Northwestern alumnus Robert Feder and Northwestern professor Jacob Smith.

“The 1938 radio drama by Orson Welles, a master of the Golden Age of Radio, offers lessons in an era of podcasting and what some call radio’s second golden age,” Smith says. He teaches in the radio/TV/film department in the School of Communication.

The radio drama will start promptly at 7 p.m. Central Time (8 p.m. Eastern time), the precise time that the Mercury Theater on the Air aired it 75 years ago.

The 75th anniversary broadcast celebrates one of the most famous media events of the past century that, as reported in The New York Times the day after, swamped phone systems from New York to San Francisco.