Mercury theater on the air

Although The Mercury Theater on the Air only lasted five months, it was responsible for the most famous production in radio history.

Actor/director Orson Welles and producer John Houseman had formed the Mercury Theater in 1937, taking Broadway by storm with their ambitious productions. CBS was impressed enough to offer the Mercury Theater its own one-hour program in the summer of 1938. The Mercury Theater on the Air focused on classic literature; early productions included "Treasure Island," "The Count of Monte Cristo" and "Dracula," which opened the series on July 11, 1938.

No production of The Mercury Theater—in fact, no other radio show ever—equaled the impact of their October 30 broadcast, "The War of the Worlds." Welles asked writer Howard Koch to present H.G. Wells’ story of a Martian invasion as a series of real-time news bulletins. The effect was so realistic that listeners across the nation mistook the fantasy for reality, causing a national panic and making Welles and the show front-page news. Six weeks later, the show acquired a sponsor and became The Campbell Playhouse. A Mercury Summer Theater series aired over CBS in 1946.

Orson Welles died on October 10, 1985.

John Houseman died on October 31, 1988.

The Mercury Theater on the Air was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1988.