History Book

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, October 29th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book. Eighty years ago today, an American radio broadcast that seemed to provoke hysteria. Plus, a surprise announcement about Vietnam from the U.S. President.

EICHER: But first, 100 years ago today, the Sailors Revolt prevents a naval battle between German and UK forces, and sparks a revolution. Here’s Paul Butler.

AUDIO: [Naval vessels/bay sounds]

We begin today with October 29th, 1918. German sailors refuse to set sail for a surprise attack on the British Royal Navy in the North Sea. On the evening of October 29th, British ships outnumber the German navy nearly two-to-one. Three German ships refuse to weigh anchor, unwilling to fight for a lost cause. German Naval Command arrests 1,000 sailors, cancels the offensive, and pulls back into the safe harbor of Kiel.

AUDIO: [Sound of protest and gunfire] 

There, the mutiny soon spreads to civil unrest, as the German population, burdened by four years of a losing war, overthrow the monarchy.

AUDIO: [Weimar Republic anthem]

The German Revolution of 1918-1919 eventually leads to a democratic parliamentary republic. But nationalistic movements and the rising communist threat in Europe undermine Germany’s new government almost from the beginning. Within just two decades, the republic falls and sets the stage for another global conflict—with Germany at the center.

AUDIO: [Mercury Theater theme music]

Next, October 30th, 1938, 80 years ago this week. Orson Welles and the CBS Mercury Radio Theater broadcast a radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’s science fiction thriller: The War of the Worlds.

WELLES: We know now that in the early years of the twentieth century this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man’s…

The first half-hour sounds like typical evening music programming, interrupted by a series of news bulletins..

BROADCAST: Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin…

As the play progresses, fictitious reporters and eye witnesses tell the unfolding story of a martian attack…

PHILLIPS: This is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed…Wait a minute! Someone’s crawling out of the hollow top.

AUDIO: [Heat ray sound and battle sound]

For 40 minutes, listeners have a front row seat to heat-ray guns, poison gas, city evacuations, and a U.S. military counter attack.

MUSIC: [Drama leading into break]

After a break, the final 15 minutes follow a supposed survivor…

PHILLIPS: As I set down these notes on paper, I’m obsessed by the thought that I may be the last living man on earth.

Response to the radio play makes headline news for days. Newspaper stories claim mass hysteria, suicides, heart attacks, and audiences fleeing homes in fear of martian hordes. However, recent scholarship suggests that many of the newspaper accounts were exaggerated or even fabricated. Most people listening understood the broadcast was a Halloween drama. As Orson Welles said at the end of the broadcast:

WELLES: So goodbye everybody, and remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody’s there, that was no martian…it’s Halloween.

And finally, October 31st, 1968.

JOHNSON: Good evening my fellow Americans. I speak to you this evening about very important developments in our search for peace in Vietnam…

Just five days before the presidential election, incumbent Democrat Lyndon Johnson makes a surprise announcement:

JOHNSON: I have now ordered that all air, naval, and artillery bombardment in North Vietnam cease, as of 8 a.m. Washington time Friday morning…

The Vietnam “October Surprise” of 1968 gives Hubert Humphrey’s campaign a boost, narrowing Nixon’s lead. But when South Vietnam pulls out of the peace talks a few days later, the momentum shifts, and Nixon wins the election.

The promise of peace in Vietnam emerge again four years later, in another October surprise, when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger announces “peace is at hand,” just twelve days before the election. Nixon wins by a landslide. However, Kissinger’s announced peace doesn’t materialize for another two and a half years.

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book. I’m Paul Butler.

(Photo/Associated Press) Orson Welles broadcasts his radio show of HG Wells’ science fiction novel The War of the Worlds in New York in October 1938.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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