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KIRO listeners responsible for most famous War of the Worlds panic

Most people are familiar with Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast, but you might not know that one of the most notorious panics happened in the Northwest, to a bunch of KIRO listeners.

"About 6 million people tuned in around the country and about a million of those people actually believed Martians were attacking the United States," says Northwest historian Feliks Banel. "There was panic everywhere. People were running through the streets, people were praying. People were holding special church services and things like that. But the most notorious panic happened not too far from Seattle to a bunch of KIRO listeners."

Banel tells 97.3 KIRO FM Seattle's Morning News that residents of Concrete, Wash. were hit hard when a thunderstorm rolled in during the broadcast.

"Up in Concrete, at about 40 minutes into the show there was a big thunderstorm and the power station went out, right after they'd said, 'The Aliens have attacked New Jersey. Now they're starting to land in other parts of the country.'"

Listen: Local historian and author Feliks Banel tell story of panic

"Imagine, you're sitting up in your little house in Concrete. It's 1938, there's about 1,000 people in town, you're tuned into KIRO on your old glowing radio, just as you hear Martian cylinders are landing in other parts of the country, there's a big flash of light because the transformer explodes. And the power, the radio, and everything goes out, and there's silence," says Banel. "A couple hundred people ran through the streets of town."

"They would describe what was taking place - how people were trying to pack up or get out in their cars and get their animals. It was just a madhouse," recalls then 19-year-old Lyman, Wash. resident Helen Healey.

Listen: Helen Healey recalls War of the Worlds broadcast

Banel once interviewed a man that was in his 20s when the incident occurred.

"We were coming home from Everett. We hit Concrete right around the time that lightning and thunderstorm hit. People were kind of wandering around, yelling, and screaming," the witness told Banel.

The broadcast incited hundreds of calls into radio stations.

"KIRO apparently got about 250 calls an hour for awhile there that night."

Banel says Concrete eventually got word from Seattle that the events in the broadcast were just part of a radio drama.

This week marks the anniversary of the broadcast that originally aired on Oct. 30, 1938.

By JAMIE GRISWOLD, Editor Note: Helen Healey is related to a member of the staff

About the Author

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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