This week marked the 75th anniversary of Orson Welles’ infamous “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, and Northwestern students celebrated by gathering at a residential college Wednesday evening to listen to the original production and engage in a fireside discussion afterward.
But on May 13, 2001, a group of students working at Northwestern’s student radio station, WNUR, produced and aired their own live version of “War of the Worlds.”
The brainchild of Mark Gordon (Communication ’03), the radio broadcast used the original script but was adapted to include references to Northwestern, Evanston and Chicago people and landmarks. According to a story that ran in The Daily Northwestern, WNUR received permission to alter the script from the estate of Howard Koch, one of the writers of the original broadcast.
Gordon recruited WNUR students who typically reported news and sports, as well as a few radio/television/film majors to round out the cast. The broadcast begins as a breaking news story about a mysterious accident on the I-90/I-94 John F. Kennedy Expressway. The cast rehearsed in Annie May Swift hall several times before the live production to coordinate the timing of their lines with the various sound effects that Gordon had previously recorded to make the broadcast sound authentic.
“My favorite story related to the show was how we got the car horn sound effects,” said Brian Nemerovski (Medill ’03), who played a sports anchor in the fake broadcast. “Obviously, we needed the sound because the re-creation centered around traffic being stalled on the Kennedy. So Mark Gordon walked into the attendant’s booth at the Whole Foods parking garage on Chicago Avenue and asked them to press the panic button on as many sets of keys as they could find. The attendants agreed, and Mark got the sound!”
Given the pandemonium created by the original 1938 broadcast, WNUR took no chances and featured disclaimers throughout the show to remind the listening audience that this was a theatrical production and not an actual emergency.
“I think someone even called Evanston and Northwestern police just to keep them in the loop in case they got any calls,” said Ben Harper (Medill ’03), who served as a news anchor in the broadcast.
Click below to listen to the complete WNUR broadcast from 2001, courtesy of Ben Harper. The action starts around the 10:15 mark.