by Wayne Geiger
“Give me five,” said the little guy sticking out his hand expectantly. He had an anxious grin on his face. He had no intention of giving me five. I’ve been down this road before.
Rather than spoil his fun, I played along and gave him five. He then responded, “Up high.” I played along and slapped his hand enthusiastically. “Down low,” he said. As I went to give him five he quickly pulled his hand away and said, “Too slow.” I laughed and said, “You got me!”
The year was 1938. Well before the era of the Internet—or even TV for that matter. Everybody listened to the radio and listening options were minimal. A man named Orson Welles worked for CBS radio. Although only twenty-three years of age, Welles was the voice of the Mercury Theater company and “The Shadow”.
He had a brilliant idea to do a realistic radio drama of a Martian invasion of Earth based on a book--the War of the Worlds. He would bring the drama to life.
So, at 8 pm on October 30, a cheerful, commanding voice bolted out, “The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the air in ‘War of the Worlds’ by H.G. Wells.” It was an introduction and a disclaimer.
Unfortunately, most people missed that announcement. They were tied up listening to the end of another program on NBC. They would not have tuned into CBS until after 8—thus missing the announcement. By then, the radio show was well under way.
After a weather report, listeners were taken to the Meridian Room in the Hotel Park Plaza in downtown New York, to listen to a live orchestra. Nothing new for the show, but it was all part of the drama. A news announcer broke into the show announcing that a professor had detected explosions on the planet Mars. After that, it was back to music.
Moments later, listeners were informed that a large meteor had fallen into a farmer’s field in Grovers Mills, New Jersey. Police and news crews were dispatched to the area.
This drama went back and forth until an announcer on scene described the scene at the farm. He gave a first-hand description of an alien being emerging from a large metallic cylinder. “Good heavens,” he declared, “something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now here’s another and another one and another one. They look like tentacles to me … I can see the thing’s body now. It’s large, large as a bear. It glistens like wet leather. But that face, it… it …ladies and gentlemen, it’s indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it, it’s so awful. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is kind of V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate” (a scream and silence).
Listeners, on the edge of their seats, were told about apparent technical difficulties at the scene.
As the drama continued, the Martians waged a full-on attack. These beings occupied war machines and fired heat ray weapons annihilating everything in their path—including seven thousand National Guardsman. They also released a poisonous gas into the air.
Soon, additional cylinders hit the earth in Chicago and St. Louis. An announcer reported that widespread panic had broken out in the vicinity of the landing sites, with thousands desperately trying to flee.
The announcement wasn’t far from the truth. Estimates are that as many as a million radio listeners believed that a real Martian invasion was underway as panic broke out across the country. The debacle led to public and governmental outcry. After an FCC investigation, and a threat from Congress, rules regulating broadcasting were incorporated.
We marvel at that now. Of course, we’re too smart for that. Or, at least I thought so.
I love Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. So does my family. In August of 2013, one of the specials on Shark Week was "Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives." Megalodon is a prehistoric shark that supposedly was extinct. However, this program revealed that they might not be extinct after all.
They surmised that a fishing boat In South Africa had been attacked and the crew was missing. An investigation led some experts to believe that it was the work of megalodon.
Viewers, like me, watched shark experts, footage, and a dramatic storyline unfold as they searched for this monster in the deep. I was glued to the tube wondering what mysteries lay below and what might this new information mean for scientific exploration and discovery.
It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized I had been deceived. Not only me—but many other people as well. “Megaladon” was not a “documentary” after all. It was what’s called a “mockumentary”. It was all a fabricated drama—not something that I would have expected from the Discovery Channel. Discovery claimed that it had aired several disclaimers--but most people missed them.
The show was a ratings hit for Discovery, with 4.8 million viewers tuning in. In fact, in the 26-year history of Shark Week, "Megalodon" is the highest-rated and most-watched Shark Week episode to date.
The fact that I was duped frightened me. I had trusted the Discovery Channel and bought into the megalodon malarkey hook, line, and sinker. I have not watched Shark Week since. That ship has sailed. As they say, “Fool me once—shame on thee. Fool me twice—shame on me.”
At the same time, I still find myself to be incredibly trusting and tend to believe the best in people. It’s in my nature. However, I do my homework, appreciate research, and verify sources. I tend to be somewhat skeptical of what I read—unless it’s on the Internet. Thankfully, we can trust everything we read on the Internet.
Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech, and freelance writer. He can be reached at waynegeiger.com.