75 years ago a broadcast over KIRO airwaves starts panic

Orson Welles
It was 75 years ago today that a small number of people across the nation thought that aliens had landed in Grover's Mill, New Jersey after Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast. (AP Photo/file) | Zoom
It was 75 years ago Wednesday that a small number of people across the nation thought that aliens had landed in Grover's Mill, New Jersey.

The alarming "eyewitness" reporting played on KIRO Radio 75 years ago. Then the broadcast signal was lost making it seem like the reporter had been attacked by otherworldly beings.

Of course, many people had missed the intro to the story, which was that it was radio theater, a reenactment of H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds."

Local historian Feliks Banel tells the Morning News on KIRO Radio that a strange confluence of events that night actually led to a panic in Washington even though it was happening in New Jersey.

"Radio, as a dramatic medium, was a very new thing in 1938," says Banel. "Sunday night in October, 5 o'clock in the afternoon, the show comes on and a lot of people aren't paying that close attention. You hear some music from a hotel and they start playing these clips, of 'oh we're hearing reports of a meteor landing on the East Coast.'"

Simultaneous to the broadcast, a rain storm was hitting Concrete, Wash. Timing proved just too perfect as about forty minutes after the hour, the power in Concrete went out. Banel says this happened just after the broadcast said the aliens had attacked in New Jersey and were now heading west.

"Literally, hundreds of people ran through the streets of Concrete," says Banel, who adds The New York Times, and Concrete newspaper ran stories after the event about how embarrassed people in the town were when they found out what really happened.

"It's not urban legend, it actually really happened," says Banel.

"It kind of makes you understand why they would panic," says Morning News Anchor Linda Thomas. "That was very convincing as a broadcast, and they didn't do what we do now, which is where you interrupt and tell people, 'by the way this is not really happening.'"

"It speaks very much to the power of media to bring stuff from far away and scare the hell out of you," says Banel.

Jamie Skorheim, MyNorthwest.com Editor
Whether it's floating on Green Lake, eating shrimp tacos at Agua Verde, or taking weekend drives out to the Cascades, she loves to enjoy the Pacific Northwest lifestyle as much as humanly possible.
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