If the print media at the time of The War of the Worlds broadcast and even some modern news organizations are to be believed, millions of people listened to the broadcast. Listeners were glued to their radios with an urgent need to know how America was dealing with the Martian invasion.
Welles’s program wasn’t unpopular, but it was hardly the must-listen show of the day. Slate reports that on the night of the broadcast, the C.E. Hooper ratings service reached out to 5,000 households to calculate the ratings for the evening. Only 2% of everyone contacted said that they listened to a radio “play,” “the Orson Welles program,” or anything indicating that they were tuned into CBS. That means that 98% of listeners on October 30, 1938 didn’t even know that Earth was being attacked by Mars. In fact, many CBS local affiliates ran their own programming that night, so entire metropolitan areas as large as Boston never had a chance to hear The War of the Worlds. Later, CBS’s Frank Stanton did his best to dispel rumors about the show:
In the first place, most people didn’t hear it. But those who did hear it, looked at it is as a prank and accepted it that way.