Upon this night in 1938, audiences gathered around their radios to hear the latest installment of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) series Mercury Theatre of the Air. The cast, led by Orson Welles, performed what they believed to be their humble adaptation of the H. G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds, not knowing that there would be listeners unaware that this was a fictionalized drama of Martians launching an invasion of Earth.
While it is far easier to look back in hindsight upon this, the seventieth anniversary of that broadcast, that event has been refered to by some as "The Night That Paniced America". Between the poor domestic economy of the times and the impending world war beginning in Europe, it is kind of unstandable that some might not have realized it was just another program within a medium that overcame the obstacle of only being able to use sound to provide us such great shows like The Shadow, Fibber McGee and Molly, and so many more.
For more information, there are plenty of resources available including a wonderful volume from Sourcebooks, Inc. (www.sourcebooks.com) which includes the script to the 1938 radio broadcast, the original H.G. Wells novel, and a CD of the Mercury Theatre performance and other bonus tracks.