Punk'd in Ecuador: The Way It Was, 12 February
1949---Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre On the Air version of War of the Worlds is old-time radio by the time Quito, Ecuador gets punk'd with a freshly-fashioned, freshly-localised, new version of the drama that first activated the panic buttons in Grover's Mill, New Jersey.
This new version is the creation of Radio Quito art director Leonardo Paez and dramatic director Alfredo Vergara Morales, alias Eduardo Alcaraz. What they wanted: A little something interesting and exciting to get Quito thinking about their station, and having hearing of the earlier Mercury Theatre exercise the duo decided a Quito-localised War of the Worlds would do the job very nicely. Why, they'd even plan the broadcast secretly enough, making no advance air announcement, the better to enhance the shock and awe factor.
They weren't exactly being careful what they wished for, senores and senoras. They are, probably, very lucky that the whole little town (population: an estimated 200,000) isn't incinerated by the time the fracas their little broadcast inspires is finito. As it is, only the radio station and part of the facility of the newspaper that owns it will burn. In terms of structural damage, that is.
Some listeners are said to believe it isn't Martians hitting the ground, levelling the small city of Latacunga, and advancing on the Ecuadorian capital---because they seem to believe it's Peruvians, with whose neighbouring country Ecuador has had a few border disputes and a couple of wars in the previous decade. And those among them who don't believe it's Peruvians are reputed to believe it's Soviets.
Still others among the panicked believe justice should be done post haste, once they realise they've been had. Those natives get restless enough to hit El Comercio, the newspaper that owns Radio Quito. Some throw dry projectiles at the place. Others incinerate copies enough of that day's edition and throw those at the place. Others upend a few fire hydrants, reportedly, the better to help ensure El Comercio burns to the suelo. A few more see four of la policia arrive and clobber one of them pronto.
Both El Comercio and Radio Quito will suffer considerable equipment damage, but the newspaper at least won't take long to get back in business.
There will even come reports that at least one priest is conducting an open-air mass of absolution for panickers who fear el fin está cerca and demand to make peace with God.
Just as happened with the original Mercury Theatre broadcast, when the Federal Communications Commission decided it had best investigate that fracas, Radio Quito's War of the Worlds will catch the Ecuadorian government's attention, the Defence Ministry assigned to investigate. Twenty-one arrests are made, of rioters and Radio Quito staffers alike, though the trial records will seem to be buried in time enough according to several sources.
Morales will be among the cuffed and stuffed while Paez will be reported as vanishing completely. That allows Morales to throw him under the proverbial bus, claiming him the mastermind behind the surprise broadcast, charging concurrently that he even kept the performers under lock and key to keep the surprise intact.
The bad news: Quito's citizens would need longer to recover from their unfortunate new nickname than from the panic itself. They will be known for a very long time as Los Marcianos---The Martians.
The worse news: This isn't exactly unprecedented in Latin American radio history. Five years before Los Mercians tried to upend Quito in panic, a few towns in Chile hit the panic buttons running when a Santiago station staged a likewise localised version of The War of the Worlds.
Unlike the hapless Quitonians, the Chileans couldn't exactly claim they'd been had. The station had published enough advance notice that the show was going on, and in the intended Wellesian style, complete with warnings that it was a work of ficcion.
CHANNEL SURFING . . .
INFORMATION, PLEASE: NOW, THERE'S A PAIR (NBC, 1945)---That master satirist, Fred Allen, joins romance novelist Faith Baldwin in joining the panel (John Kieran, Franklin P. Adams, Oscar Levant) and host (Clifton Fadiman) tonight. (NBC.)
FORT LARAMIE: THE WOMAN FROM HORSE CREEK (CBS, 1956)---Taking up contributions to help Mrs. Dennis get back home. Cast: Raymond Burr, John Dehner, Sam Edwards, Virginia Gregg, Barney Phillips, Larry Dobkin, Ben Wright, Jeanette Nolan, Harry Bartell. Music: Amerigo Moreno. Writer: Kathleen Hite.
PREMIERING TODAY . . .
1888---Victor Kolar (conductor: Ford Sunday Evening Hour), Budapest, Hungary.
1898---Wallace Ford (actor: Hollywood On the Air, Royal Gelatin Hour), Batton, U.K.
1899---Ray Knight (actor: The Cuckoo Hour, House in the Country), Salem, Massachussetts.
1904---Joseph Kearns (actor: A Date with Judy, The Adventures of Sam Spade, The Burns & Allen Show, The Judy Canova Show, The Cinnamon Bear, Frontier Gentleman, Our Miss Brooks), Salt Lake City; Ted Mack (master of ceremonies: Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour), Greeley, Colorado.
1910---Ken Roberts (actor: Easy Aces, The Shadow; announcer: Al Pearce and His Gang, Baby Snooks, Grand Central Station, mr. ace and JANE; host, Quick as a Flash), New York City.
1912---Stan Kenton (pianist/composer/bandleader, The Bob Hope Show, Stan Kenton Concerts in Minature), Wichita, Kansas.
1915---Lorne Greene (actor/host: "Western Night," Sears Radio Theatre), Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
1919---Forrest Tucker (actor: Lux Radio Theater), Plainfield, Indiana.
1920---Shirley Yamaguchi (actress: The New Edgar Bergen Hour), Manchuria, Japan.
1927---Bobby Winkler (actor: Big Town), Chicago.