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Season 4 | Episode 3

War of the Worlds

Live at the FitzGerald Theater

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In our very first live hour, we take a deep dive into one of the most controversial moments in broadcasting history: Orson Welles' 1938 radio play about Martians invading New Jersey. "The War of the Worlds" caused panic when it originally aired, and it's continued to fool people since--from Santiago, Chile to Buffalo, New York to a particularly disastrous evening in Quito, Ecuador.

 

Correction:

In this program, we referred twice to the fact that 12 million people heard the "The War of the Worlds" broadcast when it was first aired in 1938. However, no one knows for sure how many people were listening.

We also said that the FCC Commissioner referred to Orson Welles as a “radio terrorist.” However, that quote comes from November 1937, 11 months prior to the War of the Worlds broadcast, when FCC Commissioner George Henry Payne protested against radio broadcasts that "produced terrorism and nightmares among children.”

Additional audio has been added to the program to address these issues.

Guests:

Tony Field, Richard Gerrig, Jason Loviglio and Daniel Myrick

The Annotated Guide

When Orson Welles decided to make a radio play of the H.G. Well’s classic, "War of the Worlds," he had no idea what an impact it would have. The audience reaction wasn’t just a testament to Welles’ talent for gripping drama, it was also a reflection of that moment in ...

Comments [25]

Could It Happen Again? (And Again?)

We take an in depth look at a War of the Worlds radio play incident with even more dire consequences. In 1949, when Radio Quito decided to translate the Orson Welles stunt for an Equadorian audience, no one knew that the result would be a riot that burned down the ...

Comments [13]

What Were They Thinking?

To get some insight into what would make a person want to fool their audience, we talk to Daniel Myrick. Myrick, with Eduardo Sanchez, made a film called "The Blair Witch Project," which terrified its way to cult success and convinced a few people to never go camping again. We ...

Comments [6]

Comments [99]

Anon. from Straya

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Dec. 04 2013 06:49 PM
Anon. from Straya

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Dec. 04 2013 06:49 PM
Anon. from Straya

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Dec. 04 2013 06:48 PM
Anon. from Straya

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Dec. 04 2013 06:48 PM
Anon. from Straya

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Dec. 04 2013 06:48 PM
Anon. from Straya

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Dec. 04 2013 06:47 PM
D Freiheit

The notion that the broadcast caused mass panic has been debunked by Jefferson Pooley and Michael Socolow. See their article here
http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/history/2013/10/orson_welles_war_of_the_worlds_panic_myth_the_infamous_radio_broadcast_did.html
or just to a web search on Socolow and "War of the Worlds".

Nov. 10 2013 10:46 AM
Jennifer from CA

It has happened again
http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2013/11/fake_traverse_city_radio_broad.html

TRAVERSE CITY, MI -- A fake Halloween radio broadcast about a train chemical spill leading to zombie-like behavior fooled some people calling 911 in Grand Traverse County.

Jason Torrey, deputy director of the Grand Traverse County 911 system, said he is aware of up to three 911 calls that came in Thursday, Oct. 31, during a broadcast prank on Rock 105.1 (WGFM) in Cheboygan and a sister station in Glen Arbor. The false report was actually a rebroadcast from Halloween 2012, but apparently had more people concerned this year.

"We don't think it's too funny," said Torrey.

Nov. 07 2013 12:03 PM
John Sunier from Portland OR

Great show on the War of the Worlds. Had no idea there was such a result of it in Quito in 1949. I participated in a new production using the original Welles script about 1958 at WSUI, the University of Iowa. There was no reaction when we broadcast it there on Halloween. Then I took a tape of it to Boston when I was getting my Master's at BU and it was broadcast on Halloween 1959 on WBZ AM&FM, one of the major stations in Boston. The management did insist that every ten minutes or so an announcer broke in to say it was only a radio drama. In spite of this one lady called the switchboard in great panic because her son lived in NYC and she was terribly concerned about the "Martians cross the East River."

Nov. 02 2013 08:39 PM
Essay

Nvm. Found it. Didn't realize it was a rebroadcast

Nov. 02 2013 01:24 PM
Essay

Is there a reason this episode hasn't been released on the podcast?

Nov. 02 2013 01:20 PM
Kevin Kunreuther from Dallas TX

Busted!
http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/history/2013/10/orson_welles_war_of_the_worlds_panic_myth_the_infamous_radio_broadcast_did.2.html

Oct. 31 2013 03:44 AM
Andrea from Boston, MA

I'm from Quito Ecuador, althought the events ended really bad let me tell you quitenos are people that like to handle things their own way, when I was listening that they went to the station and burnt it down it really didnt surprise, more similar cases had happend before usually involving politics!

Oct. 30 2013 12:36 PM
Bra from Lansing, Michigan

http://www.war-ofthe-worlds.co.uk/war_worlds_quito.htm

The stories that he had locked the station door, enjoyed the upset caused by the broadcast and planted UFO stories are firmly refuted by his daughter. Páez had no authority to place stories in the El Comercio newspaper, and would never have stooped to this subterfuge even if he could have. He was hoping for some good reviews in the papers the following day, but had never imagined that people would react as they did. So exonerated in a court of law, Páez was free to resume his normal life, working without any stigma for other radio stations and newspapers in Ecuador.

Los que siembran el viento by Leonardo Páez
Six years later he moved to Venezuela where he continued to work in radio and newspapers for several more decades.

----This account is at odds with your "war of the worlds" radio show, which I heard twice this weekend on public radio 91.7 FM Ann Arbor.

Oct. 28 2013 02:16 AM
Paul from www.wmph.net

As my students might say: "Totally stealing this". I teach radio in public high school, and have heard of others using the original Orson Wells WOTW audio as part of their curriculum, but you guys have packaged it complete with questions for extended and expansive thinking. Mass hysteria is a hoot and all, but thanks for challenging us to ask Why? and How?

Oct. 27 2013 02:24 PM
Pattie O'Donnell from Philadelphia

My Dad was with friends at his local church in suburban Philadelphia in 1938 the night of the Orson Welles broadcast, waiting for the girls to get finished with choir practice. He says one of the local fellows came running to church at top speed, looking for a priest to confess to, sure the world was ending via Martian invasion. So not widespread panic, but some people did buy it all.

I'm pretty sure my Dad just hoped the girls would believe it was the end of the world and forget some of their Catholic scruples and do more than just let the boys walk them home.

Oct. 27 2013 01:40 PM
Nicki Murphy

Very interesting topic today, LOVED it! It would be interesting to see what Orson Welles would have made of the internet and the "collective paranoia" that can occur when some stories go viral. (weather said stories are true of not being optional) Sadly many of us continue "falling for it" on a daily basis. Great stuff guys.

Oct. 27 2013 12:16 PM
laura from moscow, idaho

Listened to most of this show with my ten year old daughter. (Not uncommon, she loves you guys.) I am kind of glad that she missed the very end. We have a policy of not lying, and that last part would have been hard to relate -- scary stuff.

Oct. 26 2013 10:32 PM
okowita from Bellingham. Wa

The discussion of how this now relates to the news is step late...look at politics now..."We have a problem and we are going to fix it"...the FDR reference was ass close as you took it... you have a great show.

Oct. 26 2013 09:57 PM
s wright from colorado

Loved this broadcast. I actually sat in the car for an extra 35 min on a busy Saturday afternoon to listen to it all :) great job.

Oct. 26 2013 05:23 PM
Ci, ndi

Sadly, the morning of September 11, 2001, many of us listening to the radio, or watching TV thought it was an Orson Wells production.
These thoughts may not have lasted long, but it did come up in people's
minds. In this circumstance no one wanted to believe 9/11. I think many hoped it was surreal. So Orson Wells famous radio show's effect is still occurring.

Oct. 26 2013 05:07 PM
Steve Marshall from burlington vt

Of course we can be duped. Remember how we reacted to 9/11? My thought when I heard about the planes flying into the towers was "Oh no, hate will fill the air." I am not into conspiracy, but there are lots of unanswered questions, and meanwhile it was a very convenient excuse for the Bush administration to beat the drums of war. They took the attack and the subsequent outrage and used it to suit their agenda. Duped? Easily and eagerly.

Oct. 26 2013 03:16 PM
Kimemoto

War of the Worlds 2 disc set a disco record?? Hardly. Wonderfully narrated by Sir Richard Burton. You should've mentioned that. Check it out...

Oct. 26 2013 03:02 PM
mark from Maryland

Wonderfully done.

And to your last point. Sadly it's true that most people are sucked in by the hype.

Oct. 26 2013 02:08 PM
Keyeland Janssen from Sedona

I enjoyed this show. I wonder if either of you remembers a tv movie back in the early 80s called "Special Bulletin" in which a group of college professors take over a tugboat and end up detonating a nuclear device in South Carolina. Even though they frequently came on saying that it was a dramatization people completely freaked out. In our home we all knew that it was fake but there was something about it that got your heart thumping and filled everyone with a lot of fear. The next day there were stories of thousands of phone to police and to NBC. People calling the police wanted to know how far they needed to be from the harbor to be safe. It created such an impact that it was never replayed and not spoken of afterward. I was curious why you didn't include it in your show.

Sep. 06 2013 06:23 PM
ErdLing

towards the end of the podcast i was starting to think that you would reveal at the end that there actually was no live audience... to pull your own little orson welles ;)

Jun. 17 2013 11:42 PM
Jes

I remember hearing this show a long time ago, and there was another act: an amazing radio play with two survivors of the invasion, scrapping to survive. It is very likely the best radio play I have ever heard.

Anybody know where a link to this might be?

Please and thank you.

May. 05 2013 09:38 AM
Computer

I'm new to building sites and I was wondering if having your site title relevant to your content really that important? I see your title, " War of the Worlds " does seem to be spot on with what your blog is about however, I prefer to keep my title less content descriptive and based more around site branding. Would you think this is a good idea or bad idea? Any kind of assistance would be greatly appreciated.

Mar. 07 2013 07:44 AM
Raul A Gonzalez Tobar from Hollywood, Florida

Congratulations, I want to thank you for such a great audio program, I was listening to NPR on Saturday,October 27, 2012. It was fantastic to listen, a real story related to what happen in Quito, Ecuador, a story that I have heard directly from my father as I was told: Martians were landing at Cotocollao close to the present airport. It was also very nice to listen to Ms Maria Beltran, with her father story. Hopefully you could congratulate Ms Beltran for her part in the program. As a Quiteno resident of Pembroke Pines, Florida, I thank you again for such a nice surprise!
Excellent!

Oct. 30 2012 01:22 PM
Amparito Onate -Worthman from Chicago

Wow, my mom remembers the occurance in Quito Ecuador, she was eight years old...I am so surprised she was aware and my Grandpa was aware it was just a radio show.....but ...it was a fatal occurance Mami recalls she could see it from her balcony...the smoke and I will play it for her, since Mami did not get to hear it. Thank you for the program.

Oct. 28 2012 11:41 PM
Glenn A. Walsh from Pittsburgh

2012 October 28

I enjoyed the rerun of your Season 4 Episode 3 of RadioLab, regarding the 1938 broadcast of the War of the Worlds, broadcast on Pittsburgh's WESA-FM 90.5 on 2012 October 27.

I believe in the 1980s (1988 - 50th anniversary of radio broadcast?), there was a television movie, which provided an updated version of the radio broadcast using supposed television news bulletins of a Martian invasion in modern-day America. I understand that, following this broadcast, some people did telephone television stations asking if this was for-real !

During the 1970s, I was General Manager of a very small, educational radio station near White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, operated by young campers at a Summer camp for boys and girls. I arranged to broadcast the 1938 War of the Worlds twice each Summer (once for each 3 and one-half week camping session) on this radio station.

These young campers, most of whom had never before heard the actual program (although some had seen a television movie about the event), were captivated by the actual program.

At this link, you can learn more about our broadcast of War of the Worlds:

http://johnbrashear.tripod.com/wlcr.html#warofworlds

Oct. 28 2012 05:58 PM
Trina Brady from Camp Hill, PA


Great program and this is still scary today. As I was listening to this again today there was a "Breaking Story" which turned out to be a Gov. Corbett news confrence on Hurricane Sandy. Very timely you could take the news confrence and replace hurricane with martians.

Oct. 28 2012 04:46 PM
Andrew Ryan

I taught this in my media arts classes in the 90s. I edited the tape, told my students that I'd clandestinely gotten it from an old friend in the parking garage of the FBI in D.C., and played it for them as if it were real. Well over half of them believed it.

Oct. 28 2012 04:29 PM
Cosmo from Norwich, CT

I first discovered WOTW as a radio script in 4th or 5th grade... SORT OF.
Actually, I had SEEN the 1960's MOVIE when it was first on TV. I remember the scenes of the evacuation, the destruction of LA, and the final battle scene at the end. I did not put together till later, after seeing a show that included a segment on OW/Mercury Theater that showed clips of the movie that that's what it was.
THEN I discovered the script in a school book and began researching, and read the original H. G. Wells story.
I even had a copy of the Jeff Wayne version, which I admit came off as "cheesy" at first, but had some awesome music. (I fell in love with "Forever Autumn"-already a die-hard Moody Blues fan.)
Then, not long ago, I had the absolute TREAT of attending a stage-play version of the radio broadcast. An amazing show.
Now I add this show to my "bibliography" of WOTW research/fandom.
Excellent show!

Oct. 27 2012 10:22 PM
Jack Boone

I recall listening to NPR several decades ago and hearing an NPR or WHYY version of WOTW with Terry Gross. Whatever happened to that broadcast?

Oct. 27 2012 07:17 PM
Alison Bly Stein from San Juan Capistrano, CA

Great show today, thanks.

Oct. 27 2012 07:02 PM
TammyB

To answer the question "Could people be fooled today" one only needs to look at the high viewership of various Fox network "news" shows. That audience has been swallowing a story about Kenyan invasion for over 4 years now.

Oct. 27 2012 05:04 PM
BobFromVegas from Vega$

I totally agree with Sean and Martin's comments about your off-the-cuff dismissal of Jeff Wayne's musical version of "War of the Worlds." Perhaps you'll feel differently about the album if you watch this art student's amateur video of what's probably the most famous song on that album: Justin Hayward's "Forever Autumn." If you get wrapped up in the story as some of your guests suggest, you may never think of that song the same way again:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocGJYvmArPc

Oct. 27 2012 04:30 PM
mina

I LOVE IT SO MUCH !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oct. 27 2012 04:13 PM
Chad from Vancouver, WA

I've always loved that 1938 broadcast. I can't tell through the keyboard how much I enjoyed the context you provided AND the moral lesson at the end. Spectacular work, love your show.

Oct. 27 2012 04:04 PM
Gordon Marsh from Roanoke, Virginia

Ditto the other comments. I'll be teaching a general education capstone course next semester on advocating for the arts (pro/con). Our starting point (touchstone reading, so to speak) will be Plato's The Republic, and I've added this Radiolab episode to the course schedule. By the way, this is not the first time I've used your programs in my teaching. Thanks for the great work you all do!

Oct. 27 2012 02:01 PM
avidreader from NYC

Fantastic program! I teach a course called 'Documentary Fictions' and this show will be required listening for my students.

Oct. 27 2012 12:59 PM
Eliezer Pennywhistler from Trenton

Just when I think Radiolab could not possible be better, you outdo yourselves here.

Thank you.

Oct. 27 2012 12:26 PM
Ron Leonard from Sacramento, CA

Really enjoyed your "War of the World" program today. Keep up the great work.

Oct. 26 2012 01:08 PM
Bill Snyder

There is a version of Buffalo's WKBW War of the Worlds program (1973) stored at:
http://archive.org/details/WkbwHalloweenShow1973correctedClosing

Oct. 13 2012 07:31 AM
Neil Warren from England - UK

This could be another way that today's 5 main media owners were manipulated...

http://septemberclues.info/

And this could be the emerging truth that concerned and profession USA Architects, Engineers (and Psychologists) are suggesting that the TRUTH and EVIDENCE points at...

http://www.youtube.com/user/ae911truth

Or specifically this direct YouTube - in case they have to move the leading one over time...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ddz2mw2vaEg&list=UUL-c_zvZ3lhlU7NU1ikxgmQ&index=0&feature=plcp

I hope that helps and heals though. More "wars" of any sort is the last thing we need.

Sep. 11 2012 07:16 AM
Adam from Orlando, FL

So, just in case anyone was curious, it's happened again:

http://epicpost.com/a-night-well-spent-trolling-facebook/

Note: I don't have any relation to that site. I saw this post on Reddit and thought I'd share here.

Jul. 27 2012 11:26 PM
Mario Morfin from Toronto, Canada.

This episode is brilliant. You should make a follow up of this episode with current stories of hoax. A lot of viral videos around !

Nov. 23 2011 11:39 AM
Dave Wright

In November1938 I was a fourteen year old 'radio nut' and as 8 o'clock approached I anxiously awaited the broadcast of War of the Worlds. Somehow there was a problem finding the station even though I was sure that I had the radio dial set right. But there was no station break or announcement of what was going to be broadcast. I continued to wait and finally heard some faint whispering which I barely made out to sound like "Are we ready? Yes. Go ahead. We're on." Then a normal broadcast voice announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, instead of the program originally scheduled to be broadcast at this time (what a disappointment I felt) we now take you, 'one year in the future', to ???? ballroom etc.) I thought maybe I won't be disappointed and I wasn't. Does anyone else have this memory?
Thanks for your repeat on PBS on Penn State's wpsu.

Nov. 01 2011 10:40 PM
Nathan from Hoboken, NJ

I was listening to this episode in rebroadcast tonight and was with you until the mention of the Blair Witch Project. That movie was really a joke. I was at Angelika in NYC and never laughed so hard in my life. I hardly think you can compare BWP with WOTW. The entire theater started to boo and some people even asked for their money back. Why was it so unbelievable? Even city slickers knew that there is no such thing as the wilderness of Maryland, you walk down stream, down hill and follow the power lines and in at worse half a day you are going to hit someone else. Look on a map of that area and you can see it is ringed by roads, rivers and power lines, proving my point. The point being that the idea of martians is more believable.

Including this reference really lowered this program in my opinion.

Oct. 31 2011 09:07 PM
Cindy from Portland, OR

Just heard program. Great show, but was surprised you didn't mention that it was the WOTW broadcast that forced the periodic "Station Identification" requirements for TV and radio stations. That is Radio 101 in university telecommunication classes!

Aug. 27 2011 04:09 PM
Eric from Portland, OR

I am a General Science (pre-med) graduate, a multimedia producer, a creature science fiction fan, and an enormous fan of Radiolab. Subsequent of this episode, I also became a fan of anything that is War of the Worlds. I have downloaded everything I could (that was free) about WOTW, and I have listened to this episode multiple times (often at night) because it resonates with me so greatly.

I have a question for the producers of Radiolab, that might have already been answered in the forum, but it's a lot to scour: How can I get a hold of the original Buffalo, New York broadcast? It is the only one I have not been able to get a hold of and I would really like to hear it.

Also, if Radiolab is looking to hire, I am quite a talented person without a full time job (I know, join the club, right?).

Aug. 14 2011 05:54 PM
M.ONE

war of the worlds is war of the media. the radio as at tool for mass communication was given to millions of people in order to shape or alter their perception of reality... "they broke in... with live reports and bulletins... constant interruptions... this play stopped sounding like a play..." and life became altered and changed forever... a war for reality, virtually. 7/12/11

Jul. 14 2011 02:32 AM
vermal from moroieni (Romania)

it is wonderful to see how a radio show can make me so thrilled and bring me so much enthusiasm for getting to know some of the most uninteresting facts. i suppose this is the magic of you guys: you really mean it.
that's why i think, if you look up at something close enough to get it into it's deeps... then everywhere you look there's a miracle.
thank you very much for teaching me that.
i only regret i got to this podcast just now. i will listen all the episodes! so i must say you did it. the mirage. you actually made it.
:)

Jun. 08 2011 01:52 PM
Helder from Hartford, CT

As a huge fan of Orson Welles - and new fan of Radiolab - I just had to hear what you had done with this. I am not disappointed! Brilliant! I'm listening to this right now and had to comment. It's inspiring me in my editing studio. Thanks Jad and Robert! Orson would be proud.

Apr. 29 2011 12:05 PM
ML from Utah

On how easy it is to fool some people through broadcasting: My 24-year-old daughter called me one night, having just seen a TV show saying the world would end in 2012. She was scared to death and wanted to know what to do. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I had spend quite a while trying to convince her it wasn't true. I'm still not sure she believes me.

Feb. 11 2011 02:34 PM
Justin from Austin, TX

Okay, this is driving me absolutely nuts. I know Zoe Keating was the cellist here, but what, I ask, is the song that starts playing at 26:54. This is driving me nuts! I've heard this before and I cannot figure out where.

Love the show, and this was a truly stellar episode

Dec. 27 2010 11:08 PM
kosha80 from Dallas, Texas

this is my FAVORITE radiolab, i never knew the pop culture surrounding the radio broadcast at the time and that it had been done in other countries. great job, guys!

Nov. 10 2010 01:35 PM

peter... *insert insults that are not allowed here*

sean is right its a great piece of music and I was aswell disapointed to see that they handelled it like that

Sep. 27 2010 09:10 AM
Alex from Lansdale, PA

This is one of my top 5 episodes! I absolutely love it!

Sep. 13 2010 12:53 AM
Peter

Sean,

You are a friggin' whiner. Shut the hell up!

Mar. 09 2010 11:53 PM
Kenneth Hanson

The Lead character was news paperman. He was a narrator and observer.1978 Richard Burton was the Narrator. it was a musical with Burtons Welsh tones to hold our attention

Nov. 01 2009 10:28 PM
JonDay

Tragically the same experiment was again repeated in September 2001 - where 3800 or so individuals were deliberately sacrificed to promote and artificially incorrect story - on the reality of actual events. Do internet searches on
"nanothermite" for more correct truth.

Nov. 01 2009 09:17 PM
sean

i love radiolab.

however, i must take issue with this episode. or, more to the point, one single statement.

'thats the DISCO version of WAR OF THE WORLDS'

in reference to JEFF WAYNE'S MUSICAL VERSION OF WAR OF THE WORLDS

shame on you!

to dismiss this work in such a snotty way.

i suggest you (and your listeners) give this work another (or first) listen...i think youll be surprised.

this is probably the best adaptation of WAR OF THE WORLDS ever done...

at once, the most faithful, and most original.

if you havent heard it. get it! turn out the lights. relax. and let the story. the music. the voice of SIR RICHARD BURTON take you away....

'the disco version of war of the worlds' shame on you.

Feb. 08 2009 07:32 AM
Sara

Please come and do a live show in L.A. I love you guys!

Jan. 20 2009 02:32 AM
cameron

Hey great show, changed my life and all, but...Robert told us there was no reporter guy in the HG Wells book and that the OW version came to include this.. but...

There WAS a reporter character in the HG Wells novel. He was 'the Journalist.' And it was from this character that the book was written in.

Also, the original War Of The Worlds was not a novel, but a series of short stories, written like a news flash opver a period of a months in I believe, (although I may be wrong), the London Evening Standard a few years before the novel was published in 1898.

This is, I believe where OW got the idea for a radio play in flash sequences.

Anyway, You guys rule. What you do is simply amazing.

Dec. 28 2008 11:26 AM
Pat

I discovered Radiolab on my local NPR channel WBEZ Chicago about one month ago. Great stuff! I was so impressed with your shows that I donated money to WNYC!
Keep up the good work!
:)

Dec. 18 2008 05:14 PM

this is okay

Dec. 01 2008 01:35 PM
wellesno1fan

Hey was this episode faked... a la War of the Worlds?
some of the live audience sounds sounded... canned...

Nov. 13 2008 08:01 PM
Angus McCarthy

Wonderful, and truly fascinating!

Nov. 13 2008 12:28 PM
Mike

I love you guys! Keep 'em coming

Nov. 09 2008 04:01 AM
Micah

Thanks for marking the rebroadcasts in the title!

Nov. 08 2008 01:48 PM
Angie

yay for the new season! but ... why are seasons only 5 episodes? :-( And... I have ideas for your show. Things pop up and I think, "Radiolab should totally do a show about that!" How do I send you the ideas?

Nov. 06 2008 03:32 PM
Jonathan

Hmmmm, it actually looks like none of the season 4 episodes are available in the podcast. Is that on purpose?

Nov. 05 2008 05:37 PM
Jonathan

Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!!! Ever since iTunes got corrupted and I had to resubscribe to the podcast I've been missing this show. For some reason it doesn't appear as an available back issue for download. Not sure why, since that's how I got it the first time, and I was able to get most of the other episodes, but this one I could never get back.

Thanks again. I love this episode.

Nov. 05 2008 05:31 PM
Lee Munsick

Do you folk really think Orson Welles deliberately tried to cause panic? FDR's comment to the effect that all the intelligent people were listening to Bergen & McCarthy hits home again. Except that probably the really educated, intelligent people were regular Orson Welles listeners and knew better - it's the un-with-it folk that started twisting dials in the middle of something and then didn't have sense enough to check elsewhere, that fell "victim". From everything I've read, the amount of "panic" has historically been VERY over-estimated. So THEN who were the manipulators and fear-mongers? Right again - the 'news' media who built it all out of proportion, creating one of the greatest 'urban myths' of all time. Right up there on the list with 'The Jazz Singer' being the first sound movie. It wasn't even Jolson's first sound film! I'm not sure whether your excellent program helped overcome the WOTW myth or spur it on. But well done! Lee Munsick

May. 26 2008 08:33 AM
Speed Reeder

Hey Radiolab, I want to comment on what a terrific show the "War of the Worlds" episode was.
I've been an Orson Wells fan for a long time, and was quite familiar with the War of the Worlds radio show. It was nice to hear a new take on an old subject.
Usually, the WOTW phenomenon is regarded as: a hoax, example of mass-hysteria, people-were-so-stupid-back-then, the power of media to deceive, etc..
However, I have never heard anyone put the story in a broader context, particularly, that radio shows were being interrupted by news about World War 2 (which had essentially just started in Europe.)
I find it telling that many people who panicked thought that the Germans had attacked!
As Kyle K mentioned above, the Aqua Teen Hunger Force panic that happened in Boston is a great example of how a mass panic can happen in our day and age. (Ironically, the ATHF panic also involved an alien invasion!) Despite all of the changes in society, and advanced technology and media, it shows we can still fall victim to mass hysteria and panic. Maybe the people in 1938 weren't as simple or naive as we think, and maybe we're not as smart and advanced as we think we are.
This Radiolab episode examines a well-known and familiar topic and shows us how it can be relevant to us today. Excellent show!

Apr. 07 2008 05:03 PM
Martin

I have always found your show to be consistently enlightening, and even mind blowing, but never offensive... until now. I was shocked to hear you describe Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds as disco! I have listened to this work dozens of times and never felt the urge to dance.
So, just to put you in your place with authority, I looked up the album on Amazon. What the $#%^! It's not only disco, but it's currently ranked number 21 on Amazon's disco chart. Not bad for a 30-year old album. That was on April 2nd. Today (April 4th) it has settled to #51. I suspect that your recent mention gave it a boost.
OK, I learned something. However, I encourage you to enjoy this masterpiece of music and give it the credit it deserves.

Apr. 04 2008 07:43 PM
Luke Hinsull

I too had the cut off at the end of the podcast, and had to come on here to see if it was intentional.... trust me it had the right effect, i was just about to get in to bed while listening and then silence....and i freaked out....anyway, best regards from the UK, this is awesome stuff, keep it going, it keeps my mostly lazy student brain now quite active

Mar. 31 2008 10:14 PM
Brandon

thank you again for another great episode.
I had wondered about how people could be so ignorant, but you really helped put it in context and I see that I could easily have bought into it

Mar. 31 2008 03:44 PM
Calvin

Since this was your first live show, I'm curious if you have more photographs of the performance to share.

Mar. 30 2008 07:09 PM
Matthew F

Very, very clever. Thanks for much for the "tell" after the one break, it's just the confirmation I needed. Very, very well done.

Mar. 30 2008 02:48 AM
clickykbd

Excellent show as always. I'm a stagehand as a profession and it would be an honor to work on a live radiolab, definitely do more of them!

I first encountered War of the Worlds in full in a highschool theatre class but the connection is deeper. There really is something to the innate human propensity for becoming emotionally ensnared in the narrative despite all the evidence that it might be a fiction/fabrication. If this weren't true, live theatre (among countless other formats) simply would not work! (Which includes your live production of this show)! ;-)

FYI mp3 version here and no end-cutting glitch.

Mar. 29 2008 02:25 AM
Radiolab

folks-aw. if only we were so clever to have the podcast cut out... we didn't think of that, but it would have been cool if we had. we've dowlnoaded the podcast on a few computers here and don't seem to be getting any files chopping off, so you may both be experiencing a flukey glitch. if you try downloading the mp3 or resubscribing to the podcast, it may fix the problem. let us know!

Mar. 28 2008 02:33 PM
Jesse Kirsch

Like Frank Patrick, I also was listening to the podcast that cuts off to dead silence right when Jad says "Everything you hear on RadioLab is..." I wondered if this was indeed planned since it would make all to much sense... but noticed I still had 40 seconds left to the podcast on my ipod. Perhaps this was just a glitch? perhaps it was intended, either way it was a great way to end the program. I did however just listen to the last minute on the blog and noticed is does continue past where it cut off on my ipod. Maybe there are microscopic aliens messing with us from the far off planet of Apple. Great show!

Mar. 28 2008 12:53 PM
frank patrick

Listened to WOTW podcast on last night's commute home. You got me so paranoid about radio hoaxes that I became absolutely convinced that the Quito and Buffalo stories were themselves hoaxes that RadioLab had concocted to prove we are all still subject to being fooled. Then, the podcast ends with a premature silence in the middle of Jad saying something to the effect that "Everything you hear on RadioLab is...SILENCE"

That was it. I was absolutely convinced of my premise...

...until I did a search on ["war of the worlds" quito].

I guess I was right. You did get me...in a roundabout way.

Mar. 28 2008 12:25 PM
Len

Great show.

I'm glad you discussed how the "War of the Worlds" formula has become the norm for news broadcasts. Still, you could have looked beyond trivial examples like the snake in the toilet.

False news stories have ignited wars. Why not discuss the Maine Incident (Wells refers to it in "Citizen Kane"), the Gulf of Tonkin, or the Reichstag fire?

Mar. 28 2008 09:49 AM
Todd

Great episode, but it's a shame that you stopped short of examining how fear-mongering has continued to evolve to much greater levels. i.e. global warming, bird flu, Y2K, AIDS, etc...

The blueprint Wells provided has served not only the media, but the government itself. The same fear that keeps people tuned in until after the break, keeps other people voting in politicians who promise to protect them.

Mar. 27 2008 05:56 PM
gboone

A great show, almost as good in podcast as it was live. Only thing I really missed was seeing Tom Keith.

Mar. 27 2008 11:40 AM
Rob Palmer

Great Show!

Mar. 27 2008 10:25 AM
Creighton

I'm not sure if you guys did this on purpose, but cutting it off at the end was a nice touch. Made me wonder just a little....

Thanks for the free podcasts!

Mar. 27 2008 12:37 AM
Christopher

A wonderful show (as always), made that much better by the music of Zoe Keating.

I was very excited to hear her in the show. I may be wrong, but that's not the first time RadioLab has used Zoe's music, is it?

Good work, folks!

Mar. 26 2008 05:14 PM
Rob

Jad and Robert: Another great show.

A tangentially related story: "War of the Worlds" meets "Woodstock". Back in the early 1990's, a Maryland radio station, WGRX, held a make believe three day free concert "on a farm somewhere in the Hagerstown area". They called it "Livestock". Despite repeated announcements that it was a fake, and performances by dead musicians, hordes of the station's listeners made a bee line for western Maryland, causing traffic jams and a little havoc for the Maryland State Police.

Mar. 26 2008 12:35 PM
Bill

Loved the conclusion you came to at the end of this episode. Great way to tie media from the past to the present. Any chance of a live show in Chicago?!

Mar. 26 2008 11:41 AM
jonathan

I've been listening to RadioLab for something like a year now, and Kudos on one of the best shows yet. Loved the ending.

Mar. 26 2008 02:01 AM
Brian

Just finished listening to "War of the Worlds" and I have to say that going in, I was skeptical that there was anything new to say about it. Once again, y'all managed in the last 10 minutes or so to elevate the subject to a totally unexpected level. I thought the segment of "fear blurbs" was dead on insight into how the tricks that Welles developed to critique media have been co-opted to further manipulate. Perhaps Welles himself was under the naive opinion that we would only be fooled once. Great work as always, gang. We need more than 5 shows a season!

Mar. 25 2008 09:07 PM
Dave

I really loved this episode. Thanks!

Mar. 25 2008 06:01 PM
Jessica

I was lucky enough to be there at the Fitz for the taping of this show. It's great that the show works even without all the enhancements we got (visuals, extra music). I hope you do more live shows; it was fascinating. I only have one complaint: you cut out my boyfriend's line read! I suppose I can forgive you.

Mar. 25 2008 12:48 PM
Jody

Love the show. I thought I had heard all about this a billion times, but I had no idea that they did it more than once. You also did a great job making me understand how people could actually fall for this. WELL DONE! Can't wait for the next show.

Mar. 25 2008 11:53 AM

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