Let me Teledata that for you

Carin Bevan
4 min readMar 6, 2014

In the 1980s, all the information you could possibly need was right there, on your TV screen. News, weather, sport headlines, Curry Cup match line-ups, TV and radio listings, flight schedules, tide times, the market prices for fruit and vegetables, pop music charts… It was current, it was colourful, and it was called Teledata.

Teledata was the SABC’s “third broadcasting medium”, after TV and radio. It was launched on 1 November 1985 and consisted of a couple of hundred pages of electronic text, or teletext. The service was broadcast over TV1’s signal when regular programmes were off air (this was before we had round-the-clock TV!), but with a special decoder, you could access lots more pages, any time of the day.

One of the most popular features was the racing pages with the latest horse racing results. Another feature was Teledossier, a crime-busting venture of the SABC and the South African police with info on missing people, wanted criminals, stolen cars and goods and lost firearms. Thanks to information provided by viewers, the police apparently managed to solve 45% of cases featured on Teledossier.

There were also advertisements. In 1988, you could buy a 10-second advertising spot for R250 a week — according to the SABC, “one of the best media bargains around”.

When this information overload got your head in a spin, you could chill out with the entertainment pages’ brainteasers, word games, trivial pursuit and riddles, or even ponder an inspirational quote.

The news headlines were an important feature of Teledata. But wait — isn’t this a recent news headline?

You may be forgiven for thinking that Russia threatening to invade another country is old news, but yes, this story is indeed from 2014.

In other parts of the world, teletext services have mostly closed down thanks to the spread of the internet and digital TV. But here in South Africa, where the SABC still hovers between analogue and digital, Teledata still exists. Today there’s only a tiny handful of pages, and while the news and TV schedules are updated daily, most pages are out of date. In fact, I would steer well clear of Teledata when planning my holidays:

Particularly if I’m heading off to Botswana, Lesotho or Swaziland:

The racing pages are still there, but with no date it’s impossible for the untrained eye to tell whether it’s one day or 10 years old. And while there are still brain teasers, you probably shouldn’t expect a new one any time soon.

The look hasn’t changed that much — compare these headline pages from 1988 and 2014:

To access Teledata (while you still can!), you have to switch to SABC 2 — Teledata is only accessible from this channel. Now look for a teletext option on the remote, something like the TTX button on Samsung TVs or the ALT button on a DSTV remote. When the Teledata screen appears, you can use the arrows to navigate.

Originally published at fadeawayradiate.blogspot.co.za on March 6, 2014.

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