Tag Archives: Serial

War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast

This being Halloween Eve 2022, I thought it might be fun to revisit one of radio’s most famous broadcasts, Orson Welles Mercury Theater of the Air broadcast based on the novel by H.G. Wells’s “The War of the Worlds.”

On October 30, 1938, 84 years ago today, the program aired on the CBS Radio Network.

If you’ve never heard it, or would like to listen to it again, click HERE

Remember, listeners had no TV, no internet and no Google Search to confirm or deny what they were hearing over their radios.

The Morning After

When Orson Welles woke up on Halloween morning, he would quickly learn that he had become the most talked about man in America. Some listeners thought those fake news bulletins were the real thing and called police departments, newspaper offices and radio stations, which led many journalists to believe that the broadcast had caused a nationwide mass panic.

The 23-year old Welles thought his career might have ended with that broadcast, telling friends at the time “If I’d planned to wreck my career, I couldn’t have done it better.” In an effort to salvage his reputation and career, Welles would go before reporters, photographers and newsreel cameramen in a hastily arranged press conference held at the CBS building in New York City.

All of the questions centered around one key issue, and that was, did he intend or anticipate that his Mercury Theater broadcast would cause its listening audience to panic?

That question would haunt Welles for the rest of his life. Click HERE for a short clip of that press conference.

WKBW’s War of the Worlds

The Mercury Theater broadcast of The War of the Worlds was over a decade before my time, as it occurred during a time considered to be The Golden Age of Radio and it was when a radio set could be found in 80% of America’s households. (Today, less than 68% of American households have one working radio in them.)

By the mid-1930s, after finishing dinner, families would spend their evenings all gathered around the radio set. Ending a day, listening to the radio, had become a nightly habit that united Americans nationwide; across class, race, gender, regional and ethnic differences.

American families had become Radio Families.

The War of the Worlds radio broadcast that would keep me on the edge of my seat was produced by one of my favorite Top 40 radio stations in 1968, WKBW AM 1520 out of Buffalo, New York. I encourage you to listen to this broadcast by clicking HERE

The Original “Fake News”

While the fable of Orson Welles broadcast of The War of the Worlds causing mass panic in the streets of America is well-known, it is also famously inaccurate.

The broadcast did produce nearly two thousand letters to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the broadcast, but more likely bold headlines and news reports in the newspapers across America were the real the culprit. Newspapers feared the power of radio and were eager to show that it was a medium that could not be trusted.

The Moral Questions

What role does media play in our society today? Can media cause citizens to be in a constant state of “moral panic?” How is media impacting the minds of our children? How do we determine what is real and what is fake?

Many scholars believe that pre-war tensions at the time of the Mercury Theater broadcast led to the anxiety listeners felt.

Today we live in a world of 24-hour news cycles and social media,  it’s non-stop “Breaking News.” The tensions of people living in the 1930s are not that much different than those we all are experiencing today.

As much as radio impacted and changed the world in so many ways back in the 1930s, today it’s the internet, smartphones and social media that’s impacting us in the 21st Century.

One can look no further than the podcast Serial. It told the story of Adnan Syed and caused both its listeners, as well as America’s legal system to question whether he should be sitting in a jail cell for the rest of his life. Thanks to the Serial podcast, Syed, whose 2000 murder conviction became a media sensation, became a free man after 23 years when new prosecutors found alternative suspects in the killing of He Min Lee, along with unreliable evidence in the case stirred up by the podcast.

The Age Gap

Of the two thousand letters sent to the FCC about The War of the Worlds broadcast, only twenty-four were from people under the age of 18 complaining about the program. It appears that children of the 1930s were better able to understand the nature of the broadcast than were their parents. In fact, most of the letters written by children approved of the broadcast, saying it didn’t frighten them.

Children were also more likely to recognize Welles’s voice from The Shadow broadcasts than were their elders, and also were more likely to listen to other science-fiction radio broadcasts of the time like Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon.

Halloween Pranks

And finally, children were more likely than adults to understand that the broadcast on Halloween Eve was presented as a fun prank and not something real.

A fourteen year old girl from New York City summed it up best in a letter she wrote to Orson Welles:

“Didn’t any of our so called adults realize that Sunday night was Halloween Eve

and that it is the night for scary things?”

11 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio

Streaming & Podcasting

computers streaming & podcastingI’ve been thinking about these two forms of audio for some time now. With each new article published about streaming, we see how more and more people are listening to music in this way. The smart speaker has certainly contributed to the growth of music listening via streams, and the smart speaker growth is exploding.

I know with my own experience by getting my first smart speaker as a gift, to now owning three of them, how it’s totally changed how I listen to music.

And then there’s podcasting, a way for the spoken word to be communicated.

Radio versus Streaming & Podcasting

Radio for most of my life was a way to hear both music and the spoken word. It was curated and delivered in fresh and exciting ways by a variety of radio stations across the country.

Unfortunately, radio delivered programming on its timetable, not the listeners.

As VCRs came into the television world, I remember hearing, why isn’t there a device like that for radio? There actually was, I owned one, but it never really caught on like the video devices did.

The VCRs and DVRs changed how people consumed their television programs, and essentially did away with the concept of “Must See TV” turning it into “must record TV.”

Netflix

Then along comes Netflix, and the concept of On Demand TV viewing was born.

One might argue that Blockbuster started it with video rentals, but it still really didn’t impact American viewing habits like streaming video did.

Again, Netflix disrupted people’s viewing habits when it would release an entire season of a TV series all at once. Gone was the need to come back week-after-week to see a program. Now, a new type of TV consumption was created, the binge-watch.

Broadcast versus Streaming

What’s really changed in our consumption of TV and radio is our ability to control what we see and hear, and when we want to see and hear it. In other words, On Demand is the media consumption process of the 21st Century.

I stream 100% of my television viewing. I can watch a program live, or start the show from the beginning if I arrive late, or just view it whenever I want, at another time through On Demand viewing.

Streaming TV has trained us, and now the smart speaker is taking our new media consumption habit and making audio listening just as easy to consume in this manner.

Alexa is ready, willing and able to play any genre of music that I want to hear, on a moment’s notice. She has more song selections than my own personal CD library and it’s so much easier to ask Alexa to play a song for me than try and find the CD that a song is on, and then load it into my CD player.

Podcasts

Complete honesty here, I’m not a fan of podcasts. I don’t know why, I’m just not. The only one I ever listened to in its entirety was the first season of the podcast Serial, and that was mainly due to a long 13-hour car drive, and my ability to download all the episodes onto my iPod to play in my car.

However, I do know that younger folks are really getting into podcasts and this segment will only grow as the spoken word genre finds a way to promote its wares.

The Looming Audio Battle

What I do see on the horizon is radio being drawn and quartered by streaming audio for music, and podcast audio for the spoken word. Both types of audio programming are easily called up via smart speakers and available On Demand.

Curated programming, as has been the staple of broadcast radio, will be challenged to compete.

Professional Radio & Amateur Radio

Radio won’t die, it has a future, but I see it bifurcating in the following ways:

  • There will be professional broadcasters and amateur broadcasters.
  • I see the future of radio looking something like the difference between professional and amateur theater. For example, the difference between Broadway and community theater; where the former are professional paid actors, and the latter is made up of talented volunteer locals with an insatiable love of theater.
  • The advent of low power FM radio stations is the first toe-in-the-water that points in this direction for amateur radio personalities who volunteer their time and energy.
  • Some of these volunteers will come from the ranks of retired or “dislocated” professional radio personalities and some will be members of the community that always thought it would be fun to be on-the-air.
  • What seems to be disappearing are local radio stations in the middle, ones that used to be ad-supported by local businesses, who now find themselves displaced by big box stores and online shopping.
  • The newspaper industry is the canary in the coal shaft for ad-supported media. Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charles Munger points out that, “Technological change is destroying the daily newspapers in America. The revenue goes away and the expenses remain and they’re all dying.” However, Munger does feel that papers like The Wall Street Journal and New York Times will most likely survive.
  • Newspapers have been cutting staff like crazy but it’s done little to turn things around. Radio is following in print industry’s footsteps as “employee dislocations” are occurring at all the major broadcasting companies.

Does any of this make sense to you?

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are.

Please post your thoughts on comments section of this blog article, so that others may read them and hear different opinions.

35 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

Hooked on a Podcast

Did you know you don’t need an iPod to listen to a Podcast? OK, if you’re reading this, you probably did know. I know my students know, because they are already listening to Podcasts on all kinds of devices that connect to the Internet.

I never really thought of hearing the end of an NPR story that I couldn’t complete when I was listening to it being broadcast over-the-air, on the NPR website, as a Podcast. It was just a way I could finish listening to something that had captured my attention. But that is a Podcast too.

To me, Podcasts were more along the lines of content developed to be delivered only via the Internet that could be

Then I heard the buzz about Serial. It premiered in October 2014 and season one was made up of twelve episodes. Serial is a spin-off of the public radio program This American Life.

By the time I joined the “party” of fans hooked on this Podcast it had ended. All twelve episodes had been created and streamed. The last episode had just been posted before I was getting ready to leave for my annual Christmas vacation back in my hometown in New England. The drive from Kentucky to my hometown is a 15-hour, two day journey.

My plan was to download the entire first season of Serial and listen to it on my drive. I actually own an iPod Classic 80GB so it seemed appropriate to go on iTunes and download season one into this device for my drive. I also knew that I would be able to complete the entire first season before I arrived home for Christmas. What was season one about? I actually knew very little about it other than it was not fiction, but a true story about a homicide and a young man sitting in jail as a result. I had also heard that it gave the listener a behind the scenes look at how journalists work when covering a story. Not “parachute journalism” that is typically what we see on the national TV evening newscasts, but real investigative, shoe-leather journalism. I was as excited to get on the road to see my friends and family for Christmas as I was to plug in my iPod and begin listening to the first episode of Serial.

Full disclosure, I did have a fleeting thought that I might not be engaged by Serial and a major portion of my audio accompaniment for my long drive might be toast. That didn’t happen. Actually, I experienced a totally different problem, that being getting out my car to fill-up with gas or stopping for a necessary restroom break and having to stop the playback of Serial while I was out of my car. Yes, it’s that engaging!

Sarah Koenig hosts Serial and she’s a fabulous storyteller. What this Podcast does is cover one true story, one episode per week, and no one, including the Serial Team knows where it will end until they get there. Because of this, listeners to the Podcast that might have intimate information about the story contact Sarah and her team with leads and information for them to pursue. Had I been listening in “real time” as each new week’s episode was posted I would have been able to contribute had I had such knowledge about this story myself. (I didn’t) However, because I had the entire season one loaded onto my iPod, I had a similar problem to the year one of my son’s gave me season one of the TV show 24. Knowing I had the next episode at the ready meant I got very little done once I began watching that DVD. The good news is when it comes to audio content; you can do other things while listening, such as driving 15-hours back home for Christmas.

I’m not going to reveal details of the story of season one in this post, I think you will enjoy it more the less you know going in. I will tell you that I sent in my donation to keep this Podcast going. Sarah only mentions this once during the twelve episodes, but it immediately resonated with me and I made a mental note to send in my contribution when I got back to “my old Kentucky home.”

So what did I learn other than a company called Mail Chimp was the major sponsor after listening to the Serial Podcast? That Podcasts are a serious challenge to over-the-air broadcast, they’re easy to use and addictive.

Podcasters are also not afraid to dismiss folks who may not like what the Podcaster is doing. Maybe that’s because the Internet opens up the entire planet to them and when you consider what a niche program can attract when the potential pool of listeners is in the billions, it’s OK if not everyone’s a fan.

UPDATE: The Maryland Court of Special Appeals on Friday, February 6, 2015 agreed to hear his case after two unsuccessful attempts to appeal his conviction over the past 12 years.

1 Comment

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio