Radio’s Most Famous Broadcast, ‘War of the Worlds,’ to Air on 97.9 WHAV

Orson Welles, director and star of the Mercury Theater on the Air. (CBS publicity photograph.)

Radio’s most famous broadcast, Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds,” airs in its entirety at 10 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 30, over 97.9 WHAV.

The Mercury Theater on the Air presented the play 78 years ago on CBS radio as then 23-year-old Welles’ loosely based the hour-long drama on the 1898 novel by H. G. Wells. Welles—already well known as the voice of the Shadow—presented the live broadcast from the 20th floor of CBS radio headquarters, 485 Madison Ave., New York City.

Newspapers the next day reported panic across the nation as some listeners believed—thanks to simulated interruptions of music with news bulletins—Martians were attacking the Earth. “Radio Listeners in Panic, Taking War Drama as Fact,” blared a New York Times’ headline the next day.

It aired a little more than eight years before WHAV went on the air, but some Merrimack Valley residents may have caught the program on distant stations. The Boston Globe reported one woman “claimed she could ‘see the fire’ and said she and many others in her neighborhood were ‘getting out of here.’”

Listen for yourself at 10 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 30, or the encore broadcast three hours later at 1 a.m.

The rebroadcast is made possible thanks to the generosity of Peter Koch, son of Howard Koch, author of the play.