The first radio hoax was not “The War of the Worlds” by Orson Welles

The first radio hoax was not "The War of the Worlds" by Orson WellesIt was by this guy.
("But he looks like such a mild-mannered priest.")

Most of us have heard of the famous "The War of the Worlds" radio broadcast by Orson Welles, which sounded like a real news report of Martians invading New Jersey.

But it wasn’t the first successful radio hoax.

The first fake radio broadcast was 12 years before, created by writer, satirist, and Catholic priest Ronald Knox in 1926.

The real-sounding radio program – with regular programs interrupted by special bulletins – broadcast news of a London riot, with Big Ben blown up by mortars, the famous hotel the Savoy burnt down, and a politician lynched on a lamppost.

Radio listeners, already spooked by fears of labor unrest and Communism (the Russian revolution was less than ten years old) disregarded warnings that it was a spoof.

Of course, some panicked.

It didn’t help that the BBC only had one radio station.

And reality helped even more, because the next day heavy snow in London delayed or stopped delivery of Sunday’s newspapers, which helped make the hoax seem much more real.

"We had hundreds of serious telephone enquiries from all parts of the country," the Savoy Hotel’s manager told reporters next day… People wanted to know whether it would be necessary to cancel their rooms. Some made anxious enquiries as to the safety of friends staying at the hotel." 

This radio deception was effective because it capitalized on the British public’s fear of strife from within.

And years later, Welles’ 1938 "The War of the Worlds" broadcast would exploit American’s fear of trouble coming from the outside.

  • If you want to hear a recreation of the broadcast, open this RealMedia file (11:22) >>
  • Here’s an excellent article explaining the hoax in detail: Holy terror: The first great radio hoax, PlanetSlade>> 
  • A Priest and a panic, BBC>> 
  • Connection to the "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, at Wikipedia>> 
  • More on the life of Ronald Knox, the perpetrator of the hoax, at The Ronald Knox Society>>
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