Broadcast Teletext, 1980



In Los Angeles in 1980, CBS, NBC and PBS (KCET) collaborated in a trial of broadcast teletext, a system that allowed television stations to provide on-demand information services by leveraging an unused portion of the broadcast television signal. The on-demand capability via one-way broadcast was enabled by cycling a carousel of data for hundreds of individual pages of information. The add-on set-top "teletext decoder" was controlled with a simple remote.

The services were extremely popular in trials. Not surprising, given the uniqueness of an on-demand information service in 1980 when personal computers were at their most nascent stage. However, the Federal Communications Commission voted against establishing a technical standard and consumer electronics manufacturers, fresh from a costly marketplace battle over videocassette standards (BETA vs VHS), could not reach a standards agreement and abandoned the US market. In the UK and other parts of Europe, teletext servces were standardized and the technology was integrated into every new television. It thrived for 25 years until its relevance wained with the dawn of the Internet.

The screenshots you see here are from a booklet of photos of the PBS service for which I was responsible. Hundreds of these were crafted for use as my "powerpoint" deck in raising money from foundations.

Richard Gingras