Retrotechtacular: The Original Weather Channel

The Weather Channel has decided to pull the plug on its automated weather display, a favorite experience for weather geeks everywhere. However, it wasn’t the original weather nerd TV station.  Early cable TV networks had their own low-tech versions of this much longer ago than you might expect. For example, check out the video below which shows one of these weather stations back in 1975.

The audio was from a local FM station and you can enjoy handwritten public service announcements, as well.


We always wondered exactly what the hardware for all this looked like. You could guess that some guy wasn’t panning the camera back and forth. Of course, the Internet knows all, so it didn’t take long to uncover several commercial units made for this service. We saw press releases dating back to at least 1964 and it looks like 1967 was when the devices became very mainstream.

A major supplier of this kind of “local origination” equipment was Telemation and [T. Buckingham Thomas] has a good recollection of it being in operation and how it led to him being the program director of a mid-sized cable TV company. There were a few different units that were pretty pricey, especially for those days. There were several competitors vying for this market. Texas Electronics still makes weather stations, but probably not with automated cameras anymore. Telemation, on the other hand, got sold a few times and somewhat lives on as a part of Thompson.

Note that some of the models had a slide projector and, presumably, a way to scan the slides (probably a rear projection screen). It wasn’t uncommon to see a crawler at the bottom with announcements or advertisements, also.


You might notice that there are at least two distinct designs for these machines. In one, a camera pans back and forth. The other panned a mirror — presumably, easier since there was no power or signal rotating. However, that also means, we assume, that either the dials were mirrored or the camera scan took the mirroring into account.

The units got smaller and smaller until they finally disappeared completely.


We can’t honestly say we miss these old weather channels, but they do remind us of simpler times. Imagine what would have to design today to do the same function. No corporate overlord would allow you to put places in for handwritten advertisements. Of course, you don’t have to. Today, you could grab the weather data off the Internet, format it using any number of rendering techniques, and pump out video all day with zero mechanical footprint.

Better? Maybe, but it doesn’t stop us from feeling nostalgic. We also marvel at how ingenious and simple you can be when you don’t have a lot of options. Also, we are a bit surprised someone isn’t streaming from one of these old beasts or a replica today. Where is the MAME simulator for the WeatherScan?

If you just want your own wacky weather display, go for it. If you really like the analog vibe of the WeatherScan, you can do that too.

22 thoughts on “Retrotechtacular: The Original Weather Channel

    1. Probably for the better, I remember directory assistance for time or phone numbers being a costly scam. Today my problem is rather picking the right cab company in a large city with too much choice.

    2. When phones got ridiculously large, I bought a watch so I don’t have to take it out of my pocket every time. The watch also shows my messages and calls, and vibrates, so it’s become an essential accessory for the phone.

    3. In austria teletext is still a big thing – it has the reputation of beeing a 100% valid soure of information, not only tv program infos are there also a lot of important news and weather infos can be obtaibed there – plus you can use it via the web today (google: orf teletext)

      1. The meteorologists call the likelihood of tomorrow’s weather being the same as today; “Persistence”. I recall a different percentage used, but to be good at forecasting the weather, one has to do better than Persistence. 50/50 won’t cut it.

  1. If I understood Unreal engine better I’d spend some time to set up some dial displays, and configure a camera to pan them. Toss in an external data feed to provide the actual weather information and then render a video from the 3D projection, probably applying raytracing methodologies. (I’m sure we have the extra resources necessary in this instance). Apply some nostalgia filtering and make it seem very 60s. (Maybe toss in an animatronic style or Supermarionation weatherman occasionally to animate the feed).

    1. “(Maybe toss in an animatronic style or Supermarionation weatherman occasionally to animate the feed).”

      Bring The Thunderbirds out of retirement!

  2. Not sure why but seeing this made me imagine it being in a post-apocalyptic movie or video game, still broadcasting current weather and an old soundtrack on loop to a (mostly) empty world. I don’t know. I guess it’s the distortion of the period audio and video juxtaposed with the personal touch of the hand-written notes and the cheeriness of the music that just screams “echo of a dead civilization” to me. Very creepy. Probably doesn’t have that affect if you are old enough to remember it being state of the art.

  3. In 1980 I moved into a big apartment complex that had its own TV weather channel. A lighted broom closet in the clubhouse housed a B/W TV camera and basic desktop weather station (temperature and humidity). Rent included cable TV and they used a VHF modulator to display their in-house “Weather Station” on an unused channel.

    I moved out a couple years later. By then the camera’s Vidicon Tube was at the end-of-life. All that was visible was a ghostly image with almost no contrast. I later heard they shut it down rather than repair it.

  4. Boy! The hours spent working on the system just to keep the camera spinning. This was also one of the first ad supported service. Selling business ads when the camera came to the end of the arc then repeat on the opposite end.

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