I have one Halloween tradition that I’ve engaged in every year since college, which is to listen to Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds,” about a Martian invasion of New Jersey.
The show is a wonderful bit of entertainment and a stellar example of classic fiction adapted for the auditory medium. What makes this program so compelling — especially for those who heard it live and reportedly fell victim to mass hysteria — is that Welles and the Mercury Theatre company blurred the lines between fact and fiction by making the story resemble an actual news transmission.
Radio is often taken for granted today because we consider the technology common. However, I encourage you to take an hour to listen to “The War of the Worlds” to remind yourself of the effectiveness of oral storytelling — our oldest and most powerful form of narrative.
Our imagination pictures the events in a visceral way much better than any visual medium could hope to achieve. This tool lends particularly well to the horror genre and the slow drip of suspense Welles expertly carries out.
I hope you enjoy. Happy Halloween.
As a bonus, last year I stumbled across the Radiolab podcast that explores the cultural events that helped create the hysteria.