WKBW's 1971 War Of The Worlds is one of my favorite things.
Something about old-time radio shows has always given me comfort. The thought of sitting around a radio with your entire family, fire lit, and waiting for your favorite show to come on fills me with a warmth I can’t really explain. I have no nostalgia for it, being that I was born in 1977 (well past the golden age of broadcasting) and to most people, "radio theater" is just a relic of a bygone era designed to trick kids into buying more ovaltine. Nevertheless, I find myself streaming old radio shows as white noise nearly every day.
Radio fan or not, you have undoubtedly heard about the 1938 Orson Wells broadcast of War Of The Worlds, the broadcast that panicked a nation (readily available to listen to free on youtube)
You may not have heard about the 1944 remake that aired in Chile (No recordings exist of this because once the locals found out they were being tricked, they raided and burned down the radio station) and the WKBW remake, which aired in 1968 and 1971.
I discovered the WKBW remake (the 1971 version) a few years ago and listen to it every time I want to bring a little bit of “spooky” into my days.
The genius of WKBW was in their using their real news crew to play “themselves” during the invasion broadcast. The DJ in the recording was the real WKBW DJ, the reporters were the real reporters. The end result is a convincing adaptation of the Wells production (regardless of the ridiculous slacks commercials they played throughout).
One of my kind of goofy side hobbies is to write to actors and actresses from the classic era of Sci-Fi and horror films and collect autographs. I have had amazing success and it is thrilling to receive a letter back from someone who starred in THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD or HOUSE OF WAX. It hit me that I should try to get an autograph from an actor from this broadcast. After all, it is an important piece of radio history, and one which many consider the last great radio drama.
Many of the people who were a part of this broadcast had passed, or simply could not be found. Lucky for me, Irv Weinstein, War of the Worlds field reporter and East coast broadcasting legend, was still alive when I discovered the broadcast, but sadly passed away in 2017.
I found an address and decided to write Mr. Weinstein. But what should I send him? Then I remembered an old copy of the CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED “War Of The Worlds” I got in a comics lot off of ebay. I wrote a letter, included a S.A.S.E. and sent my comic off.
Just a little over a week later I got the book back, signed, and with a nice note from Mr. Weinstein expressing his gratitude that the broadcast was still being enjoyed all these years later.
If you would like to hear the broadcast – which I highly recommend – you can here:
Also, if you are generally interested in the history of these broadcasts, including the ill fated South American version, Radio lab did a great podcast which can be found here:
If you want to go even deeper, there is a documentary about the WKBW War of the Worlds broadcast too: