The radio was the only means of instantaneous mass communication known to man when the Mercury Air Theatre took to the CBS radio network airwaves on Oct. 30, 1938, with a series of fabricated news bulletins concerning an East Coast attack by Martians.
Given those circumstances, St. Ambrose senior communications major Tyler Mitchell said the panic caused by the original War of the Worlds radio play 75 years ago isn't hard to understand.
"That seems impossible now, considering we have 5,000 different ways of communicating with each other and they are all so complex and different," Mitchell said.
When he paused, however, to consider the instant impact of the modern-day Twitter-verse and the wide spectrum of available social media, Mitchell had another thought.
"At the same time, we have to acknowledge we have a tendency to believe what we hear and what we read," he said. "I'd cite the example of when somebody recently tweeted that the White House had been attacked and the stock market dropped in seconds. We are quick to believe the information we are fed."
As a public relations intern for KALA-FM (HD1 88.5, HD2 106.1), the public radio station at St. Ambrose, Mitchell has helped develop a social media marketing campaign for what may be the only original 75th anniversary reproduction of War of the Worlds.
At 7 p.m. on Oct. 30, KALA will air the pre-recorded broadcast, featuring the voices of Mitchell and 12 other communications and theatre students. The radio play will detail a march by attacking Martians starting from the Durant, Iowa, farm where they aliens purportedly landed, through Davenport and the SAU campus on their way to Chicago.
KALA will host a listening party beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the renovated Bee Hive Lounge in the lower level of Ambrose Hall. Refreshments will be served and prizes will be awarded for the three best costumes worn to the Halloween Eve event.
Johnna Klossing '09, production specialist for the Communications Department, localized the script with help from Ken Colwell, PhD, professor of communications. She said the broadcast required a copyright fee paid through a California lawyer who represents the original playwright's still-living widow.
Operations Manager David Baker said he was told KALA was the only radio station to seek such permission for a 75th anniversary rebroadcast.
The 45-minute radio play was recorded over two days earlier this month in the KALA studio. Klossing said the response from students was strong when a casting call was made among communications and theatre students.
Freshman Sam Jones, who played multiple parts in the recent Theatre Department stage production of Spamalot, was excited to be awarded the role of a science professor forced to believe in aliens when he finds Martians standing before him.
"I have always been interested in radio," he said. "I think it's cool. I have done theatre all my life and this is something I have never done before.
"I am very big with my emotions - I'm using my hands to talk right now," he noted. "This is a different type of acting because I have to think just about my voice and not what I look like. It is very different."
Klossing said she had to remind one journalism student playing the role of reporter that objectivity and unflappability, typically encouraged in a journalist, might need to be forgotten when confronted with a weapon-wielding creature from space.
Freshman Taylor Brooks, who plays several roles in the production, said she suspects some disbelief will be suspended, at least briefly, when the broadcast hits the airwaves on the night before Halloween.
"I bet someone will tweet about it and someone at Ambrose is going to freak out and be, like, ‘Is this really happening right now?'" she said. "I think that would be really funny."
The rest of the cast includes: Tom Prior, Molly Conrad, Max Moline, Allie Caves, Jake Hannon, Tim Martinez, Ryan McManus, Tim Bladel, Allison Adams, Rex Farmer and Theatre Professor Emeritus Michael Kennedy. Klossing and Baker directed the production.