Once upon a time, there was a broadcast medium called “radio”, and it was the primary way everyone in America and parts of the world were entertained. I know, I know, many of you are calling BS on this right now, and fact-checking with Snopes, but I assure you: there used to be a time before the internet, or even television existed, and everyone listened to their stories, rather than watching them on broadcast television. Or YouTube. Or whatever.
Anyway, back in 1938, a young go-getting Orson Welles collaborated with CBS to bring the country a radio dramatization of the H. G. Wells alien invasion classic The War Of The Worlds. The script was modernized for that time, and was broadcast in a style that made it sound like a genuine news broadcast, making this kind of like the found footage movies of today, only with radio. Something like that. Welles played the announcer, describing the alien invasion. It was all good fun…
…until people started tuning in during the middle of the program, and–since they didn’t get the memo that this was a radio dramatization–thinking they stumbled upon a news broadcast, thought the country was being invaded by actual aliens. Or Nazis, depending on which source you look into. We were on the cusp of World War II, and tensions were pretty high. Legend has it that the police lines were inundated with calls from frantic citizens who happened to tune into a broadcast depicting an invasion of some sort. Orson Welles and the others at the radio station had to issue an apology for freaking out everyone who didn’t understand that it was a radio play.
Sure, we can all look back and laugh at this. And regardless of how it really played out (reports differ regarding exactly how big of a reaction it was), the fact remains that you should never underestimate the power of our imaginations regarding fear of the unknown.