Recreating a famous broadcast

DRAMA BECOMES NEWS: A Goldendale resident wants to recreate Orson Welles' original broadcast of \"War of the Worlds\" based on the novel by H.G Wells.

Goldendale's Richard Flynn wants to build a time machine.

He wants to go back to Oct. 30, 1938-80 years ago exactly this October-when radio was the hot new thing and millions listened to it daily. And on the evening of that particular date, one radio broadcast terrorized much of the country. The phenomenon revealed much about the culture and proclivities of the time. Flynn doesn't imagine that recreating that broadcast would incur a similar impact, but he likes the idea of having listeners return with him to those days of yesteryear.

"In the early '70s someone gave me a cassette of the Orson Welles' 'War of the Worlds' broadcast," Flynn recalls. "I listened to that until I wore out that tape."

The show was done as part of Welles' Mercury Theater radio series; while most of his renditions of famous literary works were well received, it was "War of the Worlds" (WoW) that became his most famous venture in radio.

At the time many radio broadcasts were done with live big band music in some renowned ballroom, with spoken interludes occurring occasionally. After a brief introduction to Mercury Theater and announcing that this show was an adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel, WoW began the same way, opening with languorous tunes from a New York ballroom wafting over the airwaves. Suddenly "news flashes" began to interrupt, about mysterious sightings of unknown aircraft apparently landing in fields across the Hudson River. The interruptions became more frequent, and more alarmed. Finally the "original" music program was gone altogether, now replaced with a stream of news reports about an invading force from the planet Mars. A lot of listeners came to the show late and thereby missed the introduction to the show. What they heard was frightened "reporters" describing unbelievable events. Yet many believed them anyway. People took the streets in horror; some leapt from buildings rather than risk being burned by Martian power rays. Calls swamped the radio network. The story was front-page news in the next days' papers.

Flynn wants to recreate the original Welles broadcast here in Goldendale, with locals acting out the parts. If all works as desired, the show would be broadcast live simultaneously. He's trying to round up participants now. While many people have expressed support for the idea, no one was volunteered to play a part.

"I got more interested when I saw the movie 'The Night that Panicked America,'" Flynn says, referring to a documentary made about the broadcast. "And I came up with the idea of showing what went on in the studio during the broadcast, because they had anywhere from six to eight announcers; they had three people doing sound effects, and they had an eight-piece band. All right in this same studio."

His wife Charlotte floated the idea of recreating the broadcast on Facebook but didn't see much response beyond support overall for the idea. But he's not giving up.

"This year will be the 80th anniversary of the original broadcast," Flynn says. "I thought it'd be kind of a nice tribute to the original program to do it on the anniversary."

Besides needing actors-no previous experience required-Flynn would like to have live sound effects done, as on the original show. Radio back then had professional Foleys, the term for people who do live sound effects; in Goldendale today it could be harder to find people who could do the same, but Flynn likes the challenge.

The project also needs some funding. The rights to WoW are still under copyright, and to perform the show requires licensing fees. Then there's the cost of renting a place to perform in, and Flynn is thinking about the upstairs Grange hall. Altogether Flynn estimates he'd need a few hundred dollars to pull it off.

Recreating an historic radio broadcast on the anniversary of its original airing here in Goldendale-well, stranger things have happened. Like the night the country was alit with "fake news" about illegal aliens landing in New Jersey fields.