Colm O'Regan: We'll need AERTEL when the Zombie Apocalypse comes

Who else remembers AERTEL? 
Colm O'Regan: We'll need AERTEL when the Zombie Apocalypse comes

In 1989 we got a secondhand telly that could handle the awesome power of AERTÉL. There was nothing like that day.

June 22, 1987. A day that will live in infamy. 

The setting (literally) was our Panasonic telly. Our first colour one bought the previous Christmas with a remote control that wasn’t a small child. And on that remote control there were buttons that hadn’t been used so far. A button with a rounded rectangle and a grill of lines. AERTEL.

But on the longest day in 1987, after the launch, that button didn’t work. 

Our telly couldn’t do AERTEL. Barren. We were cut off from the rest of the world. A digital curtain had come down across Dripsey.

What’s worse, for the plebs, AERTEL taunted us with a selection of 50 or so pages that used to play on rotation before the telly ‘Got Up’ for the day. 

If you missed a page you were interested in, you would have to wait.

The selection of pages was quirky. There were holiday deals and tv schedules. But also an awful lot of share price pages from Bloxham Stockbrokers. It didn’t play in silence. 

2FM was on in the background, specifically Larry Gogan’s The Golden Hour. That’s why whenever I hear Boney M’s Ra Ra Rasputin or Wichita Lineman, my Pavlovian response is to immediately wonder about Smurfit’s share price. 

I never really queried who the target market was for that stock exchange. 

Like, how many stockbrokers were waiting around for Zig and Zag to come on?

In 1989 we got a secondhand telly that could handle the awesome power of AERTEL. There was nothing like that day. Pressing the button, the screen went black and then there it was. 

In glowing writing, the information of the world at your fingertips. 

Soon the patterns developed, the pages ingrained into finger muscle memory (Twice. They changed the numbers at some point but once I’d sent letters of complaint to the minister, I got used to it).

220 for the football. 238 League of Ireland, 239 premiership table. 170 for the telly. 103 for bad news. 330 for the cinema listings. It was nature’s internet.

Refreshing the page during sporting events was the equivalent of today’s minute-by-minute. 

It worked quite well for snooker. During the summer you could keep up with the transfer market and see deals confirmed in a sort of real-time.

I found pen pals on it as a teenager. Continental European girls to be exact. I was playing a very long game that I imagined ended in Interrailing and All Sorts of Carry-on.

Somewhere on a one-megapixel camera phone is the first mention I ever got as a comedian on AERTEL. 

A blurry snap of a telly with page 300-and-something talking about Comedy This Week. But you could star on AERTEL any number of ways. 

It could be your birthday or also you could write to AERTEL and share your opinions on page 448 Viewpoints. People would post messages for each other. Like a social network but at Jane Austen speeds.

Someone ought to write a book of it. 

This cultural institution at the heart of life for a couple of generations. It’s still there. 

Although it’s all attractive and nicely fonted and I haven’t used it that much. I prefer the old one. 

It looked like you could get it going with some copper wiring and blu-tac. Maybe you could. 

Teletext is data pushed out on the broadcast signal in an invisible blank area on the screen interpreted by a decoder. That sounds MacGyver-able.

We shouldn’t turn our backs on it. 

At some stage after the Zombie Apocalypse when all the vital systems are down, a group of survivors stumbling through a shattered landscape will discover in a ruined RTE, the Aertel generators. And the slow rebuilding of civilisation will start again. One pen pal at a time.

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