Well, it almost was. Sort of. As good as.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. At twenty minutes before eight, Central Time, Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory, Chicago, Illinois, reports observing several explosions of incandescent gas, occurring at regular intervals on the planet Mars. The spectroscope indicates the gas to be hydrogen and moving towards the Earth with enormous velocity…”
It was the day before Halloween, October 30, 1938. The CBS radio network, armed with actor and future filmmaker Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre group, unleashed a broadcast that announced a huge meteorite had smashed into a New Jersey farm. New York was under attack by Martians.
The radio play, narrated by Orson Welles, was written and performed to sound like a real news broadcast about an invasion from Mars.
It was not, but people were convinced it was the end of the world. At one point in the broadcast, one of the actors playing a journalist in the field, dramatically described the emergence of one of the aliens from a spacecraft:
“Good heavens, something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a grey snake.”
The show aired as a series of simulated news bulletins that suggested a verisimilitude to listeners, who believed that an alien invasion by Martians was currently in progress. Mass hysteria ensued. The program, The Mercury Theatre on the Air was a series of live radio dramas that always ran without ads which historians say, helped the broadcast authentically simulate how radio worked in an emergency.
In the days following the adaptation, however, there was widespread outrage and panic by certain listeners, who had believed the events described in the program were real.
It made Orson Welles (more) famous. Listen to the broadcast here.