Tune into WTJU 91.1 FM on Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. for a special Halloween treat: an adaptation of the original 1938 Columbia Broadcasting System radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds,” by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater.
Welles’ iconic production showcased the power of radio at that time, said Lewis Reining, director of public affairs at WTJU, the University of Virginia’s community radio station. The station’s modern adaptation, he said, is “a fun way to do storytelling and experiment with storytelling at WTJU.”
The original CBS production was realistic, using a news-bulletin format that was reported to have frightened listeners who believed it was a real Martian invasion, despite a preface to the show and station break announcements that identified it as fiction.
“I certainly don’t want WTJU to inspire mass hysteria like ‘War of the Worlds’ did in 1938,” Nathan Moore, WTJU’s general manager, said. “But I think this is a great opportunity for WTJU to make some great radio on Halloween night.
“There has been an amazing rediscovery of radio drama and audio storytelling at community and public radio stations around the country. I’m so glad that we can be part of this movement. It not only provides an outlet for creative expression, it’s also fun for both WTJU listeners and WTJU volunteers.”
Reining, who will graduate next May from U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences with a major in East Asian studies, is the co-director and producer of “The War of the Worlds” broadcast along with May 2012 psychology and anthropology graduate Rebecca Barlas, who produces and hosts the Thursday broadcasts of WTJU’s “Soundboard” community news program. Both are volunteers at the station.
Barlas heard a Washington, D.C., old-time radio show broadcast and suggested to WTJU station manager Nathan Moore that an adaptation of “The War of the Worlds” would be a wonderful Halloween night broadcast. Given the go-ahead, she and Reining set about making it happen.
Just as Welles’ 1938 radio adaptation of English author H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel places the events of the Martian invasion of the Earth in locations listeners could relate to, the WTJU production will set the events in and around Charlottesville. The Martians will land in a field at an unnamed fictional farm in Crozet.
The WTJU adaptation is not a full restructuring of Welles’ play, but will include updates on language to capture the feel of WTJU as a volunteer station, Reining said. The production will also bring modern technology into the tale with references to the Internet and advances in military technology.
The pre-recorded broadcast will feature about 20 volunteers, including eight drama students and 12 members of the WTJU community portraying the characters. The production will run about 30 minutes, about half the length of Welles’ broadcast, which was in two parts. “We wanted to speed up the action,” Reining said.
In addition to the on-air broadcast, the production will be streamed online at wtju.net and be accessible in the station online archives for two weeks following the airing.