Originally published on 10/28/09
This Halloween Gainesville, Ga., takes the place of Grover’s Mill, N.J., as “the voice of Brenau University,” WBCX-FM (89.1) broadcasts an updated version of the classic radio drama “The War of the Worlds,” the 1938 program headed by Orson Welles that was so believable that it created a minor panic in the streets.
Set up like the original as realistic radio news coverage of a mythical invasion of earth by alien beings, the Brenau version of the 55-minute play will air during that season of the year when it is great fun to be scared witless – at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31.
“We think ‘The War of the Worlds’ is perfect programming for Halloween,” said Kevin Mace, assistant professor of mass communications at Brenau who previously directed a read version of the radio drama as a stage presentation. “You’d be surprised that after 71 years the story still holds up very extremely well.”
An 1898 novel by H.G. Wells, “The War of the Worlds” became the seminal work in aliens-invade-earth science fiction genre. In his novel, Martians equipped with advanced weaponry wreaked havoc in Victorian England on Horsell Common, close to the narrator’s home in Woking, southwest of London.
The Welles-directed version was broadcast on Oct. 30, 1938, without commercial interruption, on the Mercury Theatre on the Air over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. With the dramatic 1937 broadcast of the eyewitness account of the crash of the dirigible, The Hindenburg, resonating in listeners” ears and period reports of Nazi mischief in Europe occurring almost daily, Welles as the narrator presented a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested to many listeners that an actual Martian invasion was in progress in the unincorporated New Jersey township southwest of New York City.
Mace would not reveal which area of Hall County would be the first stop for this year’s crop of unwanted interplanetary tourists.
“We can’t spoil all the surprise,” he said. “You’ll just have to listen in.”
In addition to directing, Mace will perform a speaking part in the production. Other cast members include WBCX General Manager Kristina Rhoades, who edits the program, and Ted Garner, director of media services and the show’s technical guru.
Others in the cast include: Chet White, Mark Dove, Scott Rogers, David Bowling, Jacob Rhoades, Edie Rogers, Moe Lyons, Alyson Shields and Barney Barnes.
“This broadcast is homage to Welles and the 1938 production, and also, we hope, is the first of a series of dramatic productions that we can produce through WBCX in the future,” Mace said. “Radio drama was an extremely important art form until the advent of television – and it still is in many countries around the world. We would love to help revive it in the United States.”
Although it was issued under different call letters, Brenau obtained the first broadcast license in Hall County in 1922 – the year that commercial radio was born in the United States. Currently WBCX operates 24 hours a day, and it’s new digitally enhanced signal radiates more than 30 miles, making it one of the largest broadcast footprints in north Georgia.