Storybusters: 'War Of The Worlds' Faux Panic
10/31/2013 1:01:00 PM
75 years ago, Orson Welles supposedly caused a nationwide panic when he went on air to report that our planet had been invaded by Martians.
It was big news and supposedly thousands fled from their homes in panic believing their lives in danger.
But now NPR and Slate are reporting that the hype was only created after the fact, perhaps by newspapers as a way to discredit radio. According to Slate, the actual impact of the story was considerably less on the American public:
"Far fewer people heard the broadcast — and fewer still panicked — than most people believe today. How do we know? The night the program aired, the C.E. Hooper ratings service telephoned 5,000 households for its national ratings survey. 'To what program are you listening?' the service asked respondents. Only 2 percent answered a radio 'play' or 'the Orson Welles program,' or something similar indicating CBS. None said a 'news broadcast,' according to a summary published in Broadcasting. In other words, 98 percent of those surveyed were listening to something else, or nothing at all, on Oct. 30, 1938. This miniscule rating is not surprising. Welles' program was scheduled against one of the most popular national programs at the time — ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's Chase and Sanborn Hour, a comedy-variety show."
With that story busted, what should we think now? Are people from the '30s not actually as stupid as we thought? Is radio still not to be trusted? Should we bring back ventriloquist radio personalities?