This week’s On the Media included a clip on Orson Welles’ radio drama 75 years ago, when his radio broadcast of War of the Worlds was taken as a real threat. I’m pretty sure that what most people know about this is how everybody back then believed that they were actually being invaded by aliens, and how a lot of people packed their belongings and tried running away.
I was surprised to hear, though, that 98% of the listening audience was tuned in to something else that was not Welles’ broadcast, or didn’t even have their radios on. I was also surprised at hearing that most of those people who heard the broadcast, actually knew that it was a script being read.
If very few people knew what was going on, then how many people actually panicked at the thought of it? Truth is: very few people. This story is one example of how the media has thrown something way out of proportion. The battle of power between newspapers and the radio encouraged newspapers to take this story and make profits off of it, while at the same time taking away credibility from the radio.
It’s been 75 years since this happened and yet all people know about this is that Orson Welles’ broadcast of War of the Worlds caused a nation-wide panic, when in reality, the panic was just blown way out of proportion by a different media.