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Could It Happen Again? (And Again?)

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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 radio station and killed at least 7 people. Reporter Tony Field takes us to Quito to finds out what really happened. But we’d hardly have decided to dedicate an hour to this if it was only a two-time occurence. That’s right: it happens again. This time it’s in the 1960s in Buffalo, NY. Why does this keep happening? We talk to psychology professor Richard Gerrig who tells us that the answer may have to do with our natural response to stories.


Richard Gerrig

Comments [15]

Nicole from Maryland

I remember there being a boradcast on a Halloween night on AFN in Germany in the late 70's or early 80's. We lived off base and were on our way to the base to go trick-or-treating. As usual, we were listening to AFN. I can't remember what the show was on that night, but it was interrupted by breaking news of sightings of UFOs and soldiers in Frankfurt being put on high alert. I was around 12 years old, and the logical part of me recognized it as a version of War of the Worlds, but it still terrified me. Everyone I have asked about it can't remember the broadcast, and I haven't been able to find any evidence that it ever happened, but I remember it clearly.

Aug. 07 2015 11:05 AM
Ron from New York

Memories of that infamous "War of the Worlds" night in 1938 from one child's POV --

Nov. 01 2014 03:02 PM
D Freiheit

I don't know about Quito, but the notion that the original broadcast in the U.S. caused mass panic has been debunked by Jefferson Pooley and Michael Socolow. See their article here
or just to a web search on Socolow and "War of the Worlds".

Nov. 10 2013 10:51 AM
Heidi from Portland, OR

Went looking for more inforamtion about the Quito War of the Worlds and found this site: in which the author says Leonardo "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." Are you sure of your story?

Oct. 26 2013 07:29 PM

My husband worked with Louis Beltran in Ecuador in 1949 when they both worked for Pan American Grace Airlines (PANAGRA). Louise Beltran was a purser and worked at the radio station part time. His horrific injuries were tragic.

Apr. 15 2013 02:18 PM
Felix Herbst

Amazing show, but the Kuito incident went horribly wrong. The riots' effect was nearly as bad as if the actual landing had happened.

Sep. 20 2010 11:49 PM
Colleen White from Indianapolis

If you click on hear the WKBW version you find that they confused the 1968 version with the 1971 version. No wonder there was disco music. Sandy Beach was a much better DJ than Jackson Armstrong.

Mar. 27 2010 12:30 PM
Colleen White from Indianapolis

I was surprised at the response in Buffalo and Canada in 1968. In the weeks before WKBW advertised that they would be broadcasting there own version of The War Of The Worlds. They also interupted severa times to remind people that it was a radio drams. I was there and intentionally listening to the program that night. My home was only about 3 miles from the landing. Still it was a little chilling but I could easily tell that nothing was happening.

Mar. 27 2010 12:00 PM
Eliezer Pennywhistler from Trenton, NJ

Perhaps they did not mention the Terry Gross / Scott Simon version, Mr. Greeley, was because it was awful - terrible acting, terrible production, terrible pacing and about as chilling as a pat of melted butter.

As I remember, there was no audience response at all, except for some people wondering how much that turkey cost to make.

>> While I am here, make that "military" on my previous post. Thanks.

Nov. 25 2009 04:23 PM
Eliezer Pennywhistler from Trenton, NJ

Yeah, OK. It was a while ago, but I just heard it, so .....

1) Your summary didn't mention that within the story the entire response was military, that the milirary lied to the American people, and American civilation collapsed completely right after the invasion.

2) At that time radio networks never played records - "Ramon Raquello" was "live".

3) The Hindenberg coverage wasn't on tape, as tape was not invented (by the Nazis!) for another 8 years. It was a 78 RPM transcription disc.

4) The NJ Militia was real and was under the command of a certain General Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr. - Junior's father.

5) The real response to the broadcast engendered a lot of fear, but no violence, no suicides, no mayhem. You are welcome to imagine what the response would be like today.

Thanks for a great show,

Eliezer Pennywhistler, Trenton, NJ -- just a few miles away from Grover's Mill, NJ.

(And where Bruno Hauptmann went to the electric chair as part of the hox by that well-known practical joker, Charles Lindbergh - who earlier had hidden his child in a closet, setting the entire household off on a frenzied search, FYI).

Nov. 25 2009 04:15 PM
Ben Greeley from Philadelphia, PA

WHYY only now has broadcast this program, a year after the original. I'm surprised and disappointed that the hosts failed to mention NPR's own version of TWOTW (I can't remember when, perhaps 1998, the 60th anniversary?) "hosted" by Terry Gross and "reported" by Scott Simon. No panic followed (I asssume) probably owing to the sophistication of NPR listeners. We enjoy Mr. Krulwich's reports, on radio or TV.

Mar. 03 2009 11:16 PM
Joe Chevere from Chicago, IL

Great show! A good one not mentioned was "Special Bulletin," the 1983 made-for-TV movie shot on video tape. It was about a group of home-grown terrorist who make nuclear device and tries black mail the US Government. A lot of people thought it was real. Remember that one?

Apr. 13 2008 09:24 PM
Douglas C. Anderson from New York Suburbs

This was a extremely insightful program. One of my memories of "War of the Worlds is that delightful "snippet" in Woody Allen's Radio Days when the couple in the car where the program.

The 1953 motion picture's sound track has a sort of unique distinction in the history of sound effects. The "sound" created when the first capsule opens in the farmer's field was created by unscrewing a Mason jar inside of a commode.

Mar. 09 2008 06:21 PM
Carl Furst from New York

When I was a kid, my father played for me a recording of War of the Worlds as produced in the 1970's by the BBC that featured Richard Burton and music by the Moody Blues.

I was scared to death by this recording, the music was so haunting, I just had to listen to it over and over. Eventually I could have sworn that I saw lights over the city, that there were large 3 legged martian machines roaming downtown manhattan and quickly headed under the covers. I figured, if it's real, I'm a cinder from that heat ray, if I lie here and live... my mind is playing tricks on me.

Great Show!

Mar. 07 2008 03:41 PM
Tom Gullett from St. Paul, MN

Enjoyed your show about "War of the Worlds". For your information, there was another updated broadcast of this famous radio drama. In 1965, a radio station in San Francisco broadcast a story about some strange object landing at the Berkeley Flats, a tidal fringe of SF Bay. And, I fell for it. Was quite scared, matter of fact.
The broadcast consisted entirely of reports from the field, describing how this "craft" was seen from the Bay Bridge and the orange glow in the night sky. I was living in San Leandro, south of Oakland, and went out looking at the sky for this glow. I should have caught on when no other station in the area was broadcasting anything about this, but I didn't. I don't remember how the whole issue resolved itself, but I do remember being taken in completely.

Mar. 06 2008 01:25 AM

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