We all have those pop culture ghosts– those moments of barely remembering something obscure, sometimes even misremembering it, not being able to find anything about it online, and not finding any other human who remembers said thing. Sometimes you might even think you’re going crazy when, for years, every person you talk to says they don’t remember what you’re trying to describe with the vague memories you have of it.
I’m happy to report I’ve found my pop culture ghost, and it came from Canada: Genesis StoryTime.
Genesis StoryTime was a Canadian television station that showed images drawn on screen with storybook captions and no sound. It ran 24-hours a day and featured no advertising. The idea was that parents and children would watch the station together and the parents would read to their kids or vice versa. I also recall the station showing drawings sent in from children on a regular basis.
The station used Telidon computer technology, a videotex/teletext service developed in Canada in the late 70s that provided 2D color graphics and text, which you can find lots of examples of on YouTube:
Sadly, no actual videos of Genesis StoryTime have found their way online yet.
Donald J. Gillies, Professor of Communications at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto, Ontario, wrote a paper on the technology that mentions Genesis StoryTime. The paper, Videotex and Teletext: Teaching and Learning. An International Survey, was presented at the Canadian Symposium on Instructional Technology in Winnipeg, Manitoba in October 1983. In it, Gillies explains the technology a little better than I can for you nerds out there (and if you want to read the full text, you can download it here):
“Both videotex and teletext present visual information on the screen of an adapted television receiver (and some other video display terminals). There is as yet no sound and the images are still frames (although some simple animation is possible).
Videotex is an interactive closed-circuit system which allows the user to select, in his home, office, school or other site, a “page”, i.e., a full television screen, of information stored in a central computer or computer data banks. This choice and the information chosen each flow through the switched telephone network.
Teletext is an interactive one-way transmission system broadcast as a television signal using an invisible unused portion of existing television signals, i.e., the vertical blanking interval. The “blank” referred to is easy to see if the vertical hold control on a television receiver is adjusted so that the gap between the two picture frames is visible. If a teletext signal is being carried in the vertical blanking interval, the three-line teletext information packet will be clearly visible” (pg. 2).
His paper takes a playful jab at Genesis:
“In Winnipeg, the Genesis Research Corporation, one of Canada’s largest electronic publishers of children’s stores, delivers these stories in the Telidon format on cable to subscribers. The text on the screen accompanying the graphics is designed to be read to the children by their parents (or by the baby- sitter, perhaps?)” (pg. 5).
The station started in November 1983, a couple months after I was born. I can’t find any reports on when it was taken off the air, but some digging brought up this transcript of my local paper’s March 22, 1989 listings. GEN Genesis Digital TV was channel 38 for me.
Due to CRTC restrictions, the channel wasn’t available to many Canadians, but was picked up in the U.S. or as a half-hour program (the latter shown on public access in Winnipeg).
Americans must have thought we Canadians were crazy, especially with headlines like “Canadians launch silent cable TV channel”. I can just hear the editor typing that in, scoffing at our flappy-headed need for education. And um, religious education?
My memories of Genesis StoryTime were largely of Mr. Men stories, and the Wikipedia article for the station mentions Eric Hill’s Spot the Dog. I was never very good at sleeping, so I’d be up late and awake early. Watching this silent station was a win-win since I could have it on in the front room without waking up my parents. I vividly remember laying on the couch in a pathetic lump with a terrible ear ache, being calmed by the soothing non-sounds and colorful images of Genesis StoryTime. It’s always baffled me that I spent so much time watching the station, but no one else around here knew what I was talking about when I brought it up.
As the name suggests, and it’s something I never picked up on, Genesis StoryTime also focused on Bible stories.
Although the station is long gone, without much evidence of its existence on the Internet, the Bible stories live on in Genesis’ co-founder Greg Stetski’s Bible for Children site. Here Stetski offers illustrated Bible stories in various formats.
Interestingly, the bottom right corner features the Genesis heart logo, which would flash on-screen when the picture was about to change. Could these be from the original Genesis StoryTime channel? Yeah, probably.