Nite-Owl from WFLD Channel 32 Chicago, 1981

12 Oct

Viewers of Chicago TV in the 1980s will remember Nite-Owl which aired on WFLD-TV Channel 32. Nite-Owl was a service by KeyFax which provided rotating text of news, sports, and weather that ran all night long.

This was before the independent Field Communications station was sold to Medtromedia, and then to News Corp as part of the core of the Fox Network.

The truly independent WFLD in 1981 and 1982 had an innovative, informative, and unique programming approach for overnight viewing. 

To experience what Nite-Owl was like, check out these videos from the always-reliable Fuzzy TV Memories channel on YouTube and has several hours of Nite-Owl available for viewing.


By today’s standards of computer-generated text – or even by 1990s standards! – it looks pretty lame. But remember, this was 1981! 

There’s something very relaxing about these videos. Maybe it’s the comforting familiarity.  Maybe it’s the fact that you know nothing too exciting is going to pop up.  Or maybe it’s the memory of falling asleep to Nite-Owl many times as a kid. I dare you to pull one of these videos, leave it running late in the evening and NOT feel a little sleepy!

And maybe that was the real charm of Nite-Owl; it was as much a companion as it was a news source. Today, this is also the true value of the Internet and late-night cable TV for many.

One thing that was better about Nite-Owl over today’s CNN and the rest of the 24 Hour cable news channels: no talking heads shouting biased political opinions over each other! Nite-Owl was simple, yet had basic journalism down perfectly: just the facts. And a few fun facts…

8 Responses to “Nite-Owl from WFLD Channel 32 Chicago, 1981”

  1. Bob Tabor January 28, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    Thanks for posting this. I was feeling nostalgic and remember being up late at night as a kid and being mesmerized by this “show” (?) Oddly comforting. And in retrospect, it was a precursor to bulletin boards like Prodigy and CompuServe.

    • Jack Monson January 28, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

      Thanks Bob – yes NIght-Owl was totally a model for the boards. It was way ahead of its time!

      It’s also interesting to me that adults at the time didn’t really care. But kids at the time were fascinated….probably not by the content but by the possibilities.

  2. T. Brown October 25, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    At age 10 I remember Saturday nights staying up late and fighting boughts of insomnea, watching Night Owl. I used to watch this like it was an actual t.v. show. I remember the space shuttle launch graphics. That was really cool. Night owl was really ahead of it’s time.

  3. Bryan Klodhopper December 27, 2013 at 1:04 am #

    I used to watch this when I was 12. Started at midnight. I used to call into the station and request songs and the guy alway played my song next.

  4. JM June 22, 2015 at 1:42 pm #

    Great memories. I was a member of the Bullseye Club for the show’s short life. Each hour, there was a segment devoted to leisure, including games and fun facts, and the mascot of the segment was known as the Nite Owl Trickster. His block-graphic flying saucer would land onscreen and he would emerge and wave. Bullseye Club members received a certificate (signed by the Trickster) and a button. Members were also supposed to periodically receive promotional items, but I don’t think that ever happened. I also had a fan letter that I sent quoted onscreen during the show, a real thrill in the early 80’s.
    Unfortunately, they tried to scale up too quickly by transitioning to a subscription model with a separate decoder box which would have given viewers the ability to dial up individual pages on demand, still an impressive feat for the time. However, the demand for the pay service was hugely overestimated, leaving the company with only a fraction of their projected subscribers. The handful of cable providers that offered the service dropped it after a few months, and Keycom’s remaining assets were absorbed by parent company Centel.
    A more detailed history can be viewed at
    “It was as much a companion as it was a news source”. Agreed and well said!

    • Jack Monson June 26, 2015 at 9:35 am #

      Thanks for your comment. “The Trickster” – I had forgotten about that!

  5. Alex December 24, 2015 at 11:40 am #

    If you’re a serious tech historian, here’s link to an excerpt from The New Scientist Magazine, July 22, 1982 about the technical workings of Nite Owl, pretty complex by 1982 standards:

    • Jack Monson December 27, 2015 at 10:17 pm #

      Thanks for sharing that link Alex!

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