The Buzzard Theater of the Air’s “War of the Worlds” from 1976

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Our next Buzzard Theater of the Air production in 1976 was an obvious one – a new version of H.G. Welles’ War of the Worlds.  The original Mercury Theater of the Air production, which was broadcast on October 30, 1938 on the CBS Radio Network, was presented as news bulletins interrupting regular programming. It caused scores of listeners to believe that there was an actual Martian invasion taking place.   

Unlike the familiar Christmas Carol, War of the Worlds was a complete rewrite. The outline was prepared by Denny Sanders and a sizeable share of the script was written by Promotion and Marketing Director Dan Garfinkel with supplementary input from the staff.  The writing and production was influenced by, among other things, the cutting-edge humor of the time from the Firesign Theater, National Lampoon, and even Cheech y Chong.

The entire production was done with antiquated equipment and recording tape at our decrepit studios at 50th and Euclid, and took hundreds of hand-made tape splices to complete.

We wanted War of the Worlds to be edgier than A Christmas Carol. It included some self-parodies of our Instant Radio Spectacular live remote broadcasts, a few inside jokes – even a couple at the expense of our frequent request-line callers asking to hear “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd five minutes after we just played it.

In retrospect, we tried too hard and over-wrote the script, which made it a major challenge for the considerable production skills and imagination of Jeff Kinzbach and Steve Lushbaugh

As a result, the final product was somewhat disjointed and lacked the charm and appeal of A Christmas Carol Still, 33 years later, it holds up well.

Though the master of A Christmas Carol survived, War of the Worlds was one of the casualties of the WMMS archives purge in the early nineties.

This copy comes from a cassette recording made on October 31, 1976 by Kyle Cooley, a former WMMS listener who now lives in Michigan, and we thank him very much for this rare find.  Since the cassette tape audio had deteriorated, it was remixed to mono and equalized by Chuck Matthews.  

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Denny Sanders on the making of War of the Worlds:

I had reference cassettes of the Christmas Carol over the years, and eventually found a high-quality, studio copy (which is the version posted), but I never had anything on War of the Worlds.  This recording is the first time I have heard playback since it aired in 1976.

Well, if anything, we were certainly ambitious.

At the time, I remember being disappointed in how it came out.  We really got in deep water with this one, and we may have overreached a bit.  It turned out to be far more complicated to produce and edit than originally anticipated, and I recall that Jeff Kinzbach and Steve Lushbaugh were still cutting and adding effects to the production right up until airtime.  Maybe if we had a couple of more weeks it could have been smoother, and more streamlined.  However, listening again after over 30 years, I got a kick out of Leo’s hilarious MC-ing of what must have been a hell of a concert, G-Man himself in a rare on-air appearance as a cop (pure type casting) and Matt the Cat as Mayor Perk (the tape was slowed down to match the real Mayor’s typical delivery).  Oh yeah, “Mr. Greenback”, the fictitious WMMS station executive:  That was me doing my best Milt Maltz imitation!   

War of the Worlds download

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