KALA to air localized 'War of the Worlds'


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Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2013, 4:17 pm
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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com
To celebrate the 75th anniversary Wednesday of the famous radio broadcast of "The War of the Worlds," St. Ambrose University will air an original localized version on the campus' KALA-FM public radio station.

The hour-long show will start at 7 p.m. Wednesday at 88.5 FM, KALA HD1, and online at sau.edu/kala.

On Oct. 30, 1938, millions of radio listeners tuned in to Orson Welles' adaptation of the H.G. Wells book, "War of the Worlds." Believing they were hearing firsthand accounts of an attack on Earth by Martians, thousands called radio stations, police and newspapers; fled their homes; became hysterical; or gathered to pray.

About a dozen SAU communications and theater students, along with Michael Kennedy, professor emeritus in theater, have recorded dialogue, sound effects and original music for the new adaptation.

The show begins with an alien invasion of a farm in Durant, Iowa, and follows the Martians' movements through the Quad-Cities on their way to Chicago, said SAUtv and KALA production specialist Johnna Klossing, who localized the script with help from SAU communications professor Ken Colwell.

The show was directed by Ms. Klossing and David Baker, KALA operations manager and program director.

"We knew that we wanted the spaceship to crash somewhere local. From there, it just follows the script, places that sound familiar," Ms. Klossing said. Much of the language remains intact from the 1938 script, she said.

The concept for the anniversary adaptation came from a volunteer KALA disc jockey over the summer, who knew this was the 75th anniversary, Ms. Klossing said. Mr. Baker suggested localizing the famous script. That became Ms. Klossing's pet project, and she organized getting it put together, cast and recorded. She got permission to adapt it from the widow of Howard Koch, the program's original author.

It was first directed and narrated by a 23-year-old Orson Welles as a Halloween episode of the radio drama series "The Mercury Theater on the Air," broadcast on CBS radio. The program included a weather report and a dance band, interrupted by breaking news about strange explosions on Mars, and a meteorite landing in Grover's Mill, N.J., revealing itself to be a Martian spaceship.

Molly Conrad, an SAU theater and public relations major, wrote and performed all the music for the new version, which purports to begin from Galvin Fine Arts Center on the Ambrose campus in Davenport. Mr. Kennedy takes on the Welles narrator role.

"He gave students advice on acting, things like that," Ms. Klossing said of the project, which also featured other students as crowds in the background. "Some are theater students. It's a different kind of acting; people don't see you. You need to be more expressive with your voice. On stage, people can read your emotions by the look on your face. Mike Kennedy kept telling them, you have to paint a picture with your words.

"Imagine this alien coming at you -- I think that analogy helped them a lot," she said. "The main thing that struck them was the panic that this caused."

On Wednesday at SAU, a listening party featuring costumes, food and prizes will begin at 6:30 p.m. in Ambrose Hall, where Brett Billman, assistant professor of communications, and Mr. Baker will introduce the program and talk about the massive impact of the original broadcast. Many adaptations have been done around in the world in the years since the first broadcast.

There is a parallel to the power of social media today, in how news or rumors can spread quickly, and also get debunked more quickly than '30s radio, Ms. Klossing said. The SAU version will be rebroadcast on KALA around Thanksgiving, she said.

To hear the original 1938 broadcast, visit youtube.com/watch?v=OzC3Fg_rRJM.

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