WKBW's 1968 "WAR OF THE WORLDS"
by Bob Kosinski
Buffalo radio has had many classic moments over the years but it’s tough
to top Halloween night, 1968, as WKBW aired it’s version of H.G. Wells, War of
the Worlds. This classic Halloween radio production has grown in stature,
especially over the past ten years, receiving national attention. KB’s War of
The Worlds has been featured in several books, national articles and on numerous
radio collection web sites.
It all began in the fall of 1968 and the approaching 30th anniversary of Orson
Welles classic radio dramatization of H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel. KB
Program Director Jefferson Kaye had planned to update a local version of War of
the Worlds as a tribute to that 1938 classic. Welles had made history with his
Mercury Theatre on the air broadcast which had caused panic and had become the
most famous radio broadcast of all time. In an attempt to recreate a similar
broadcast, Kaye had no idea what he was getting into and how far reaching the
effects would be.
WKBW was a giant at the time, a 50,000-watt AM powerhouse that could be heard
along the Eastern Seaboard at night. KB was already known for its creative
Halloween night specials and the original stories produced by Kaye and Danny
Neaverth, but War of the Worlds was a much bigger undertaking.
Jeff Kaye had written a script and together with engineer Danny Kriegler
attempted to produce and direct the production. The story line was well known,
Martians invade the earth, and like the '38 version by Welles, the radio station
would report on that invasion. However, Jeff Kaye soon found out that his KB
staff of reporters and disc jockeys were not quite up to the standards of the
original Mercury Theatre on the Air actors.
Faced with airing a collection of amateurish readings by his staff, Kaye decided
to allow the reporters to be themselves and have them report on the invasion as
though it was actually occurring. Reporters such as Jim Fagan, Don Lancer and
Joe Downey along with DJ Sandy Beach and WKBW TV anchor Irv Weinstein were armed
with the details of events they were to report on and then told to just be
themselves. This new approach not only worked better than following a written
script, it scared the hell out of thousands of listeners.
I was 14 years old in 1968 and promptly at eleven o'clock on Halloween night I
lay there in a darkened bedroom as Dan Neaverth wrapped up his hosting of
various spooky stories. What came next was a pre-recorded introduction to War of
the Worlds; complete with an explanation of what KB was about to attempt. Next
came an actual news report by
Joe Downey with a seemingly innocent final story about mysterious explosions on
Mars. From there DJ Sandy Beach took over and for the next ten minutes did his
usual music show with an occasional mention of those strange explosions on the
red planet. Then in the middle of White Room by the band Cream a traffic
bulletin cuts in warning of a tie-up on Grand Island, the chaos was about to
At this point thousands of listeners were still waiting for some kind of spooky
Halloween show and now impatient that nothing was happening, began to call the
station. Jeff Kaye and Dan Kriegler were in the control room and because of time
restraints Kriegler was actually adding live sound affects to the taped
production. Kaye told the callers that the War of the Worlds had indeed begun
and just be patient and listen. Minutes later, in the middle of Hey Jude by the
Beatles, listeners were hit with a
dramatic news bulletin announcing a massive explosion on Grand Island. To
some however, this dramatic interruption was so realistic that they forgot they
were listening to a Halloween program and believed an actual disaster had
The production from there was beautifully crafted with fictitious live reports
and coverage of an actual Martian invasion of Buffalo and Western New York. The
realistic reporting by Jim Fagan, Don Lancer and Kaye himself created a
production that far exceeded anything KB had ever aired on this eve of all
hallows. Still, the Martian invasion could be interrupted for regularly
scheduled commercial breaks and reminders that this was only a radio
dramatization. These disclaimers were
ignored by many as if they never
One by one newsmen were killed off and the phones were jammed with callers
fearing that what they were hearing was real. It was at this point that Jeff
Kaye realized things had gotten out of hand and he wanted to interrupt the
program to calm listener's fears. Director Dan Kriegler, fully absorbed in the
production at this point would have none of that. Fearing that Kaye’s
interruption would harm the integrity of the production, the two began to
argue. So determined was Jeff Kaye
that he threatened to yank the large reel-to-reel tape off its spindle and end
the program unless Kriegler allowed him to go on the air. Now faced with the
realization that Kaye would actually do it, Kriegler allowed him to cut in and
give a live disclaimer telling
everyone this program was only a dramatization. Yet, the calls still came in and
listeners up and down the East Coast began phoning relatives in Buffalo to see
if they were ok.
Finally, at about ten minutes after midnight, we hear one of the productions
most telling moments. WKBW’s TV anchorman Irv Weinstein had placed himself atop
City Hall and was directing Jeff Kaye to call his wife to let her know he was
alright. Irv spoke too soon however as seconds later he became one of the
victims of a Martian war machines dreaded death ray.
The production then comes to a climax as Jeff Kaye; now the last man on the air
ends the program by walking out onto Main Street and succumbs to the same poison
gas that had been wiping out the population of Buffalo all night. The close is a
somber reading by Dan Neaverth that
sticks to the original H.G. Wells novel explaining that despite the Martins
victory over Buffalo and all of mankind, they too are wiped out by the common
It is now twenty minutes after twelve and inside the station Jeff Kaye does not
feel a sense of accomplishment, instead he fears he has scared the hell out of
people and would certainly lose his job. Kaye claims he slipped his
resignation under the General
Manager’s door and went home.
In the morning things were not as bad as Kaye had feared. There was concern on
the part of management that this Halloween program had gone too far, but it was
the talk of the town. This was the type of publicity that KB thrived on Kaye and
Kriegler had succeeded in creating “good radio” as they would put it. I’m told
the FCC did slap KB's hands for misleading its audience. It is a fact that
changes have been made since that broadcast in the FCC regulations to safe guard
against a similar occurrence. That did not stop Kaye from retooling another
airing of the broadcast in 1971 with Jackson Armstrong replacing Beach as the
opening disc jockey.
The panic that was created in Buffalo on that night in 1968 was not nearly as
great as that caused by the 1938 Orson Welles original. Still, it was far more
than Jeff Kaye and station management had anticipated or should I say, hoped
for. In an interview twenty-one years later Dan Kriegler told me they had never
intended to scare anyone, just do “good radio”, I didn't believe him for a
Jeff Kaye is still amazed that people remember the program and the lasting
affect that it had, but he can repeat every detail as though it was yesterday.
For me as a young teen it was a realization that radio and broadcasting was
where I wanted to start a career. It affected many in a similar fashion and is
still considered to be one of the most historic broadcasts in the annals of
This production was largely ignored through the late 70’s and most of the 80’s.
WKBW was sold and the call letters changed to WWKB and the new owners had little
interest in promoting the KB golden years. Then in 1988 the 1971 version was
re-aired because of the national attention to the 50th anniversary of Orson
Welles original classic.
I was then working in sports at WKBW TV and I pestered the News Department to do
a piece on the local version that had aired on KB. After days of prodding and
pitching they agreed and had Linda Pellegrino do a feature piece on the radio
classic and it aired at the conclusion of the six o’clock news anchored by WOW
participant Irv Weinstein.
In 1989, I convinced the producer of AM Buffalo, Mike Toppo, to allow me to
produce a feature on Jeff Kaye’s original for that program. This allowed me to
interview many of the key players including Jeff Kaye and Dan Kriegler as well
as affording me the air time to properly tell the story. Those interviews were
preserved and re-edited for a 30 minute special I produced on the topic for WNED-TV
in 1998. Click here for a video
The radio rights to WKBW’s War of the Worlds were passed from Capital Cities to
the various owners over the years and are now held by the Entercom station
group. The 1971 version has been re-aired numerous times on Halloween and can
also be heard on various web sites. A few years ago a coffee table book was
published entitled “The Complete War of The Worlds Book”. This publication not
only includes the original script of Orson Welles production but a detailed
account of the KB version, including a CD with excerpts from the 1971 airing.
In 1998, on the 30th anniversary of the WKBW’s production, John Hagar had 97
Rock and 103.3 The Edge produce and broadcast another local version of the
story. Hagar has long been a fan of KB radio of the 60’s and recruited several
other “fans” including myself in recreating an updated version. Included were
several of the original KB staffers with a now retired Irv Weinstein reprising
his role and serving as the last newsman alive. Jeff Kaye performed as a WHAM
radio employee out of Rochester who was called to report on the invasion in that
city. Kaye was an enthusiastic participant and graciously repeated several of
his classic lines from the KB original.
That 1968 KB production has held up well over the years and can still be
appreciated for the excellent piece of work that it is. The renewed interest in
it has also prompted several local stations to return to the practice of unique
Halloween programming on October 31st. Still, nothing will replace the feel and
the magic of Jeff Kaye's original. WKBW's version of H.G. Wells War of the
Worlds is truly a masterpiece and should be treasured as long as there is radio
in Buffalo. Nuff said!
Original program and had the most impact. Dan Neaverth does nice job of setting
the mood with somber and dramatic open. Vintage Sandy Beach as opening DJ and he
makes a great transition from his usual music program to concerned announcer
when the invasion begins.
This 68' original had such songs as Eleanor by the Turtles, White Room by Cream,
Hey Jude by the Beatles and I'm Gonna be A Country Girl Again by Buffy St.
Marie. Newsman Henry Brock does bulletins leading up to Jeff Kaye taking it over
in the newsroom.
Miscues: Locations mentioned on Grand Island during meteor landing do not
match up on actual map. Several times reporters react to aircraft and explosions
before the audience actually hears them because director Dan Kriegler had to add
sound affects live to save tape generations. TV newsman John Irving describes
Grand Island Bridge explosion and has survivors being swept away by rapids some
half-mile away just seconds later.
Strengths: Superb acting by most of the participants with Jeff Kaye's
close very dramatic. Great Halloween mood complete with
Monster Shoe ads adding to the
flavor of this 1968 creation.
Time: Runs around 75 minutes.
Opening narration is done by Jeff Kaye as opposed to Dan Neaverth and he
does an original read, updating facts describing the panic created by the
original 1968 KB version.
Jackson Armstrong, who was then doing nights, replaced Sandy Beach as DJ and
adds his own unique flavor.
Songs played in 71' include Old Fashion Love Song by the Three-Dog Night,
Precious And Few by Climax, Maggie May by Rod Stewart, Gypsies Tramps and
Thieves by Cher, Everybody by Santana and Two Divided by Love by the Grass
Interestingly enough, original Director Dan Kriegler refused to have anything to
do with this second-generation version because of Jeff Kaye's edits which
resulted in the cropping of about twelve minutes for the sake of time.
Strengths: Jackson Armstrong adds great energy in opening minutes. Kaye's
opening narration gives good insight as to what happened on the night of the
first airing in 68, although he takes dramatic license and fudges some of the
Just discovered this version within the last year. Features the legendary
Shane Brother Shane as the opening DJ and while he adds his own unique style, he
closely follows the original lines of Sandy Beach from the 1968 version. The
remainder of the broadcast is identical to the 1971 version, complete with Jeff
This version done after Jeff Kaye and others had left KB and is by far the
weakest of the three. Opens with a Ron Baskin newscast and then a long drawn out
report on UFOs by an unknown Toronto reporter. Newscast ends with identical
explosion on Mars report and then DJ Jim Quinn, aka Mighty Mouth, takes over.
The need to edit out references to station personnel who no longer worked at KB
forces a much longer opening music segment with Jim Quinn. Quinn repeats word
for word the ad libs of Sandy Beach and Jackson Armstrong from earlier versions.
Songs include Osmond’s' Love Me For A Reason, Locomotion by Grand Funk Railroad,
When Will I See You Again by Three Degrees, America's Tin Man, Neither One of Us
Won't Say Goodbye by Gladys Knight & Pips, and Beach Baby by First Class.
This version is one hour long and flawed by the many edits and then abrupt toss
to an unnamed Jeff Kaye. The close by Kaye is also abruptly dumped out of before
conclusion. You’re cheating yourself if this is the only version of WKBW's WOW
you have heard.
WNED's "Making of WKBW's War of the Worlds" produced by Bob Koshinski part 1
WNED's "Making of WKBW's War of the Worlds" produced by Bob Koshinski part 2
WNED's "Making of WKBW's War of the Worlds" produced by Bob Koshinski part 3
WNED's "Making of WKBW's War of the Worlds" produced by Bob Koshinski part 4
WNED's "Making of WKBW's War of the Worlds" produced by Bob Koshinski part 5