On Oct. 30, 1938 many people in the US heard on the radio what they thought was an invasion from Mars. What they were hearing was a radio dramatization of H. G. Welles The War of the Worlds (1898). In this radio version, the Martians landed in Grover’s Mill, NJ. Orson Welles was both director and actor in this episode of the series, The Mercury Theatre on the Air on CBS.
This show was one of the first to use fictional news breaks that added a great realistic feeling to the broadcast. People in the US had been hearing reports from Europe about invasions and were already on edge. Also the show didn’t have any sponsor at the time so the first break for station identification happens about 40 minutes into the show. Listeners who didn’t hear the first part of the show were the people that were most likely to panic. During the show they were calling police stations asking what they could do to escape the invasion.
After the broadcast, Orson Welles said that he never expected such panic from the show. In the end, it helped secure Welles’ fame at an early age.
If you want to experience the broadcast yourself, it is online here on Archive.org. You can download it or use the online audio feed in the upper right of the web page.