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Yesterday in La Crosse

We interrupt your Sunday night to bring you Martians!

Brad Williams

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It happened the night before Halloween, 1938. “The Mercury Theatre on the Air” on CBS Radio broadcast a new version of “The War of the Worlds,” starring 23-year-old Orson Welles, 7 p.m. La Crosse time.  Welles used fake news bulletins to make it sound like Martians were landing in New Jersey, and one actor playing a reporter who eyewitnessed the Martian attack on humans had listened to the broadcast of the Hindenburg explosion to help him sound realistically frightened. 

One La Crosse church was reported in a near panic about the “invasion.”  The phone company brought in an extra operator to handle calls.  La Crosse’s only radio station, WKBH, was airing ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy at the same time, which was a much more popular program than “Mercury Theatre.”  La Crosse Mayor C.A. Boerner thought the whole thing was terrible, even after Welles ended the broadcast by claiming the show was his version of a Halloween prank. 

In October of 2003, WIZM aired a live recreation of the Welles program, performed from the stage of the La Crosse Community Theatre, now the Cavalier Theatre.  But the original show took place in 1938, yesterday in La Crosse.

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from UW - La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area. He regularly covers local courts and city and county government. Brad produces the features "Yesterday in La Crosse" and "What's Buried on Brad's Desk." He also writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse. Brad been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.

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