Martians are Better on Radio

By Mary Traynor

Earlier this week, Jeff Wayne’s musical version of the H.G Wells classic War of the Worlds came to the Cardiff Motorpoint Arena.  It was certainly an impressive show; a star studded cast, including Jason Donovan, Marty Pellow and Liam Neeson (sadly only in hologram), a full orchestra and guest appearance by an enormous flame throwing Martian fighting machine. But did the audience believe for even one second that aliens had invaded earth?  No – of course not. Because the Martians simply weren’t real enough.

When Orson Welles broadcast his infamous radio production in 1938, such was the power of the images he created that an estimated 1.7 million Americans genuinely believed that the earth had been invaded by aliens. Another production in Quito, Ecuador in 1949 caused a riot and left 6 people dead. Radio could never have an impact like that these days, could it?

Modern day audiences are cynical, questioning, worldly wise. They have access to a whole range of media to help them to form their opinions.  Well, in this country they do. Elsewhere, restricting access to information is a tried and trusted means of subjugation. Take Syria, for example, where internet and mobile communications have recently been restored after a total blackout which denied Syrian citizens access to almost everything other than state controlled media. If you are then denied electricity, radio is pretty much the only media you can still access.

Radio; cheap and easy to distribute and consume, with its power to stir the imagination and speak to the heart. We don’t have to look too far back in history for examples of the damage radio can do, in the wrong hands. In 1994, radio played a significant part in inciting the genocide in Rwanda during which some 800,000 people died. Maybe radio will never again convince us that Martians have landed, but we should never underestimate its power.

Mary Traynor is Head of Learning and Teaching, and Lecturer in Radio, Cardiff School of Creative and Cultural Industries

About James Stewart

Senior Lecturer in Radio Journalism.
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