Relax, residents of Florence, Alabama – aliens are not coming to your children’s schools to attack and/or kidnap them.

WOTW-NYT-headlineFLORENCE, Alabama – Last week, radio station Star 94.9 in Alabama began a radio promotion spoofing aliens hacking into the station to advertise an upcoming change to the station’s format.  Somehow, people living in the area – mostly students – came to believe that their schools would soon be attacked by aliens from outer space.  The local authorities got involved, and police and school officials began to make urgent phone calls to Shoals Media Group, the company that owns and operates Star 94.9.

Brian Rickman, program director for Shoals Radio Group, was perplexed.  To bring attention to a format change at Star 94.9 – which is owned by Shoals Radio Group – Rickman said the station on Monday began airing conversations between aliens.

“We thought it was clever.”

“It’s a very innocuous promotion that got blown out of proportion,” said Rickman.  “We came up with what we thought was a really fun storyline and that would be that these aliens or star people were hacking into the radio station. The concept being that they heard our frequency several light years away, they didn’t like Justin Bieber and the pop music we were playing and they were going to take over the radio station and adjust the format.

It was all a mysterious misunderstanding which escalated as the message passed from person to person, and eventually law enforcement in the area beefed up security at schools to calm fears from parents – who apparently actually believed aliens from outer space were coming to attack their children.

This has all happened before.  In 1938 Orson Welles directed an narrated a radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, which featured simulated newscasts.  The fact that they were fiction was clearly identified at the beginning of the show, but anyone who tuned in late missed that part – and to them it sounded like we were actually being invaded by attackers from Mars.  It was just prior to the start of World War II, and people were already on edge.  Newspapers reported that panic ensued, with people across the Northeastern United States and Canada fleeing their homes. Some people called CBS, newspapers or the police in confusion over the realism of the news bulletins.

You’d think that in our modern age, with our modern awareness of the world around us and with the internet freely accessible, that this kind of thing couldn’t happen twice.

So what does this modern-day War of the Worlds sound like? Star 94.9 put it on their Soundcloud page, and we present it here so you can hear it for yourself.  The radio spots are all put together into a single recording. The voices are all synthesized.

It’s pretty much just some radio station schtick, and yet, it demonstrates the true power of radio.  As radio station operators ourselves, this got our attention.


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