Daily Mail Reporter
00:37 GMT, 1 September 2013
06:11 GMT, 1 September 2013
More than 70 years after Orson Welles’ infamous War of the Worlds broadcast, a series of radio ads about a bogus alien invasion have spread panic among residents of a rural Alabama community.
Star 94.9 is changing formats in Tuscumbia, so it used a gimmicky marketing ploy in which extra-terrestrials take over the station to figure out what type of music appeals to humans.
But the promotion apparently backfired, putting some local residents on edge and fearing for their children’s safety.
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UFO stunt: Alabama radio station Star 94.9 caused panic among some parents after broadcasting a series of ads simulating an alien invasion
Out of this world: In the station’s marketing ploy, aliens took over the airwaves to figure out what type of music appeals to humans. But some parents were led to believe that the promotion was actually a bomb threat targeting schools
The TimesDaily reported that concerned parents and students called police and schools, and the station said it received phone calls, too.
Tuscumbia School Superintendent Mary Kate Smith said absenteeism was up slightly Thursday, and she fielded a call from a parent worried about a possible bomb threat. Police increased patrols at schools to ease concerns.
Station programming director Brian Rickman has issued an apology for the confusion. He said the ad was meant to be funny, and the station did not foresee any problems with the promotion.
It all started earlier this week when the Star 94.9 station in Tuscumbia began broadcasting a series of ads that made it seem like the station had been taken over by aliens.
In the goofy promotional spots, an alien commander with a faint British accent speaks to an underling with a robotic voice who offers him information about the inhabitants of Alabama and Tennessee, saying that they are inpatients and fear change.
‘That’s just silly,’ responds the alien overload. ‘Change is exciting.’
Great hoax: Orson Welles is seen rehearsing his radio depiction of H.G. Wells’ classic, The War of the Worlds. The broadcast, which claimed that aliens from Mars had invaded New Jersey, terrified thousands of Americans
During the exchanges between the bogus visitors from outer space, the commander’s subordinate attempts to explain to him the concept behind Facebook – ‘it is something that humans use to display photos of their food.’
The officer goes on to say that earthlings also use Facebook to express their satisfaction and displeasure with things, including the broadcast on the 94.9 frequency.
ORSON WELLES’ 1938 ALIEN RADIO PLAY THAT SET OFF MASS HYSTERIA
On October 30th, 1938, the day before Halloween, the U.S. experienced mass hysteria–most pronounced on the East Coast – in response to a radio broadcast put on by actor and director Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater On The Air.
Directed and narrated by Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds about an alien invasion.
The first two thirds of the 60-minute broadcast were presented as a series of news bulletins, which suggested to many listeners that Martians were attacking New Jersey.
The 60-minute radio show ran without commercial breaks, which only added to the program’s realism.
Some listeners heard only a portion of the show and fled their homes in terror. it has been estimated by some historians that of the 6 million people who heard the broadcast, 1.7 million believed it to be true, and 1.2million were frightened.
When it became apparent that what the listened heard was merely a play, the public reacted with outrage, accusing CBS of choosing an intentionally deceptive format.
‘Commander, the humans are anxious for another message from you,’ said one voice in the promo. ‘I told them that you would speak to them on Thursday at 9am. They are curious, it is in their nature.’
The publicity stunt quickly went viral on Facebook and Twitter, leading some parents and students in the area to believe that the seemingly innocuous promotion was actually a bomb threat targeting local schools.
Some residents were so concerned for their children’s safety that they ended up keeping them home Wednesday morning.
Brian Rickman, of Star 94.9, described the snafu to the station WLOX13 as a game of ‘telephone’ gone awry.
The program director insisted to TimesDaily that none of the promotions ‘even remotely hint that schools are going to be attacked and there is no mention of bombs.’
Yet, Colbert County Superintendent Tony Olvis was critical of the radio station’s judgement call, saying that the ads were in ‘bad taste’ because the issue of school safety is no laughing matter.
In an effort to reassure parents, the Tuscumbia Police Department placed additional patrols on and around school property Thursday morning as a precaution.
According to Rickman, the tongue-in-cheek ads featuring weird robotic voices, static noises and jokes about Miley Cyrus, were inspired by Orson Welles’ 1938 broadcast of the H.G. Wells classic The War of the Worlds, which describes a violent alien invasion of the East Coast.
Welles’ performance, which was presented as a series of news bulletins, was so convincing that it caused a mass hysteria across the country, followed by an outpouring of anger when it was revealed that the events described in the radio broadcast were not real.
Aftermath: Actor Orson Welles explains the radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds to reporters after it sent terrified residents fleeing for their lives