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  • Christopher Michael McHugh

What Happened to Teletext

Updated: May 1

Did you ever wonder what happened to or what exactly teletext was?


Have you ever heard of Teletext? It’s this amazing system where you can get text information using your TV’s antenna and a special decoder. The system is still being used across the globe, but it never caught on in the United States, although a form of it was used by a Chicago and L.A. TV station, and Superstation WTBS.


This service is so amazing. Sending all of these text pages via the airwaves.

Right now we’re looking at the BBC’s Ceefax. So here’s how it works. You have a main page, and then on that main page you can choose between various sections, like news headlines, sports or weather. You select what section you want to view by typing in the number.


But everything isn’t just text. I love the blocky, old school graphics that you can bring up on things like weather maps.


Another awesome thing is that you can do trivia on the system.

Teletext started being tested back in 1973. And it had a long run in English-speaking countries. CNN used it up until 2006. And the BBC until 2012.


What’s so great is that you can check out Teletext offerings around the world by downloading a Teletext app on your phone. I had a lot of fun looking at archived BBC Teletext pages on the Teletext International app.


In the US, a number of Zenith TVs had Teletext decoders. You could view Teletext anywhere in the country if you had Superstation WTBS.


WTBS used the Electra teletext system. The system operated from the early 80s up until 1993.


Los Angeles station KTTV has a teletext service. And Chicago’s WFLD used KeyFax. Keyfax was basically a one-way service since no one had the decoders. It ran overnight and they called it Nite-Owl. They would play light rock and Muzak over the scrolling graphics and information.


Nite-Owl ran from 1981 to 1984. And some nights it said that they’d get as many as 75,000 viewers.


Here’s a promo for Nite-Owl.


Employees at the Chicago Sun Times would write the text on their computers. It would then be sent over to the TV station via a telephone line.

 

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