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How to deliver long-form information in the 80s? A Databurst, of course!

We talked to Brendan Henehan, longtime Almanac producer, about this innovative solution pioneered by TPT producers in 1984

May 19, 2022

In honor of this month’s 80s party (and subsequent premiere of Minnesota Experience’s Electronicle 1980 – watch now!), we talked to Almanac producer Brendan Henehan. Almanac is Minnesota’s longest running primetime television show and a great way to learn more about local news and public affairs each week. It airs Friday nights at 7 p.m.


We asked Brendan to reflect on his time at then-KTCA in the 1980s and he pulled out this charming memory of “Databurst.” Henehan calls it, “a global innovation.”


Read more.


In December of 1984 as KTCA’s new weekly public affairs show was about to launch, the producing team was coming up with ideas for a new type of interactive TV show. They planned to ask a weekly Minnesota history question they dubbed the “Index File” question. Viewers would have the chance to call in with their answers which would be recorded on a series of answering machines. The producers would pick which calls to play on the air the following week. Those same answering machines would gather comments about the show and its co-hosts, neither of whom had ever read a TelePrompTer or worked in live TV.

The Almanac team also wanted to find a way to provide data and information to people watching the show using all the tools available to them. Remember, this was years before the world wide web allowed people in their homes to read newspaper articles or do research online. How could you do that in 1984 pre-internet with someone who lived perhaps hundreds of miles away?

The Executive Producer of Almanac –Bill Hanley—had a strange idea. He said, “what if we recorded images of a newspaper article and then flashed them on the screen and instructed viewers to record the images on their VCR? That way, they could pause the image on their VHS tape and read the article frame by frame.”

We experimented with the idea – quickly dubbed “Databurst”—and rolled it out on the very first edition of Almanac on December 7, 1984. And darned if it didn’t work.

Transmitting data at ten times of the speed of the fastest home modem at the time, any Minnesota viewer with a VCR could read a Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper article from their living room. The Almanac team soon expanded the concept to include “Artburst” focusing on visual stories and once transmitted the images of every piece of art in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in a matter of seconds.

Almanac would use Databurst for years and even made American broadcasting history by sneaking it into a nationally-aired PBS show in 1986.

Want to see the idea in action? Watch the clip:



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