We Interrupt This Broadcast…

One of my favourite topics to think about, since I was very young, is the effect that direct contact with intelligent alien life would have on our society. It would be transformative, I think, whether it be initially seen as for good or ill. Of course, most imaginings of such an event usually considers the “ill” aspect. I was chatting about the issue recently with a friend of mine while hiking the other day and then I recalled that I forgot to do a blog post on last week’s Sunday night radio listening, part of which was about just this very topic!

war of the worlds tripod illustrationThe show was in two parts (both good… more on the second later) and the first was a 1994 recreation of the classic War of the Worlds broadcast of 1938. You know the one, I hope… It was a CBS radio broadcast by the Mercury Theater company, masterminded and led by Orson Welles, and was a Howard Koch radio adaptation of the 1898 H. G. Wells novel. As you may know, the radio show created a huge panic among the listening audiences at the time, brought on by a combination of the relative newness of the medium (it was done in the style of a series of on-the-scene breathless news reports) and the general atmosphere in world politics at the time. (There’s a rather good Wikipedia collection of information about it here.)

All of this puts me in a nostalgic mood, since during some of my school days I loved that War of the Worlds rock musical concept album by Jeff Wayne from 1978 (I knew of it only in the early to middle 80s), with a star-studded cast of musicians (Justin Hayward, Phil Lynott, Julie Covington, David Essex and Chris Thompson), and the wonderful voice of Richard Burton as the main protagonist (a journalist). Anybody else remember that? From so many listenings to it, I used to be able to sing along to every note and word of that album! Probably still can, even though I’ve not heard it in so long. Altogether now – Uuuu-Laaaa!!!, or Come on Thun-der-child!!… Here’s a Wikipedia link.

Anyway, I highly recommend the recreation of the broadcast. Find an hour and curl up next to your computer and pretend it’s a warm old valve radio. Leonard Nimoy plays the Princeton scientist Professor Pearson (I love his speculation about the heat ray), and several familiar actors from the Star Trek Next Generation make up the rest of the cast: Brent Spiner, Gates McFadden, Wil Wheaton, Meagan Fay, Jerry Hardin, Dwight Schultz, Armin Shimerman, Tom Virtue, and John de Lancie.

The full program can be downloaded from the KPCC “Relativity Series” podcast (which is an excellent science-meets-theatre series by the way). Look here and scroll down. It will not be available for very long, so download sooner rather than later. Grab some of the other plays while you’re at it, for later listening.

Do come back and let us know what you think!


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4 Responses to We Interrupt This Broadcast…

  1. Lab Lemming says:

    Hey Clifford,
    My high school was about a mile south of the Grover’s Mill “landing site”, so for the 50th anniversary, we had a parade down 571 and they opened a little park on the edge of the pond there (that’s when they unveiled that plaque on the wiki site). The water tower that allegedly got shot at was still standing 10 years ago or so, the last time I was down that way.
    They also rebroadcast the original on Oct 30, 1988, at the correct time. Were you in Princeton then?

  2. Clifford says:


    No, I was not. Was barely out of school myself. I was in my second year as an undergraduate, and Princeton was a dream away then. The dreams probably began a year and a half (or maybe two) later when I read “Who Got Einstein’s Office?” by Ed Regis.

    Fantastic to hear about your school and the parade!


  3. Douglas Finney says:

    Hi Clifford, you can’t believe how relieved i was to find this internet article. I recall hearing this program on my local NPR station a few months ago and was only able to listen to part of it. I even stayed in my car an extra twenty minuets to hear the more of it. My question is, are you aware of any way to download this program, i think it has been taken down from the linked page


  4. Clifford says:


    No, I do not know. Perhaps contacting the people at KPCC might help?