War of the worlds in the theatre of the mind
Orson Welles presented The War of the Worlds on radio in such a way that the listeners believed that what was being described in the programme was really happening.
We are all eagerly following the journey of ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission which would give India the pride of joining an elite group of nations, with the U.S. in the lead, that probed our planetary neighbour in close quarters. But can we believe that around the same time 75 years ago many parts of the U.S. were plunged into turmoil when news spread that alien species from Mars had landed on American soil and launched a deadly offensive on human beings? Yes, a radio drama broadcast on October 30, 1938 created this scare.
The American comedian and television personality Steve Allen described radio as ‘the theatre of the mind’. Radio has the unique power of influencing listeners into visualising events which even the visual media, sometimes, may not be able to portray effectively. Even during the early days of radio broadcasting, when everything was done live, there were highly talented producers who used the full potential of the audio medium and created immortal radio dramas. Our reminiscences now are about one such radio drama based on H.G.Wells’s famous science fiction, The War of the worlds broadcast over Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in the U.S.
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( The author is a retired Deputy Director-General of AIR and former Station Director of AIR, Chennai. His email: