Radio is at it's best when it stirs the imagination. Take, for instance, radio's best-known Halloween prank. On Sunday, October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater of the air pranked a million listeners with the broadcast of “War of the Worlds.”
While the stories of widespread panic and mass hysteria are largely the stuff of legend, the news-report style of the show had many convinced that someone...somewhere...Martians, maybe...had invaded the United States.
The “War of the Worlds” broadcast was a masterful mix of writing, production and storytelling. Actors played their parts – from the “Secretary of the Interior” to the daring “reporters” who delivered updates from the front lines of the alien invasion – sometimes narrating their own demise:
Streets are all jammed. Noise in crowds like New Year's Eve in the city. Wait a minute . . . Enemy now in sight above the Palisades. Five -- five great machines. First one is crossing river. I can see it from here, wading the Hudson like a man wading through a brook . . . Now the first machine reaches the shore. He stands watching, looking over the city. His steel, cowlish head is even with the skyscrapers. He waits for the others. They rise like a line of new towers on the city's west side . . . Now they're lifting their metal hands. This is the end now. Smoke comes out . . . black smoke, drifting over the city. People in the streets see it now. They're running towards the East River . . . thousands of them, dropping in like rats. Now the smoke's spreading faster. It's reached Times Square. People trying to run away from it, but it's no use. They're falling like flies. Now the smoke's crossing Sixth Avenue . . . Fifth Avenue . . . one hundred yards away . . . it's fifty feet . . .
But all of that happened long ago. What does an almost-eighty-year-old Halloween prank have to do with today's Christian radio ministry?
Simply this: radio is at it's best when it stirs the imagination. And it's what can set you apart from the rest of the pack. Everyone reports the same traffic and weather. Everyone plays a mix of the same songs. But not every jock or personality can make me feel the emotion of a song. Or the frustration of the morning rush. Or a thousand other things. But you can speak the truth in a way that's engaging and compelling. You do it by using words and emotions that pique my interest and challenge me to engage with your message.
We're near the end of October. So take time to listen to radio's best Halloween prank and let your imagination be stirred by listening to the old “War of the Worlds” broadcast. Enjoy some good, solid storytelling. Then get back on the air, stir some imaginations and create some great radio.
(Attribution: Script from the “War of the Worlds” adapted by Howard E. Koch, 1938)