The Myth of the ‘War of the Worlds’ Panic

Wednesday marks the 75th anniversary of Orson Welles’ electrifying War of the Worlds broadcast, in which the Mercury Theatre on the Air enacted a Martian invasion of Earth. …

The panic inspired by Welles made War of the Worlds perhaps the most notorious event in American broadcast history. … There’s only one problem: The supposed panic was so tiny as to be practically immeasurable on the night of the broadcast. …

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. CONT.

Jefferson Pooley (Muhlenberg College) & Michael Socolow (U. of Maine), Slate