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Television Entertainment

Inventor of the TV Remote Control Dies 113

Posted by Soulskill
from the rest-in-peace dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Yes, kids, you used to have to walk across the room to change the TV channel. That changed with the introduction of the 'Flash-Matic,' a revolutionary device that was 'Absolutely harmless to humans!' and could 'even shut off annoying commercials while the picture remains on the screen.' Eugene Polley, inventor of the now ubiquitous TV remote-control died Sunday of natural causes at age 96. In 1996 Polley received an Emmy for his invention, but during his 47-year career, he was awarded numerous patents and worked on projects ranging from advances in radar to push-button car radios."
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Inventor of the TV Remote Control Dies

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  • Do you think they've tried turning his batteries round and smacking him against the coffee table?
    • by Bigby (659157) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @08:51PM (#40082385)

      To honor him, every channel should show him at the same time for 5 minutes straight. People will start using their remotes to change the channel, only to get nowhere. Only then will they truly understand the importance of the remote control.

    • by mykepredko (40154) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @10:01PM (#40082685) Homepage

      Tabatha Southey (Toronto Globe and Mail Columnist) suggests that it would be most appropriate for Mr. Polley to be buried under some couch cushions.

      RIP and thank you for relieving the few calories of energy it took to get our fat asses up and over to the TV to change the channel.

      myke

    • by lewko (195646)

      Once upon a time someone would have had to walk across the hospital room to pull the plug. Now....

    • by Megane (129182)
      He doesn't use batteries, you insensitive clod! But be careful about running a vacuum cleaner near his grave or he'll start flipping over randomly. (If you're not old enough to know about clicker remotes and vacuum cleaners, GET OFF MY LAWN!)
      • by Quirkz (1206400)
        I'm old enough to remember wired remote controls, but I never ran into the vacuum problem. Is that good enough?
      • by operagost (62405)
        I don't have any trouble with TV remotes, but strangely enough a remote switchbox I bought just last year so that I could operate a plug-in lamp from across the room seems to turn off whenever I vacuum in that room.
      • by tragedy (27079)

        I'm not familiar with that particular problem. At a place I worked once the walkie talkies would drive the fax machine crazy though.

  • by FudRucker (866063) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @08:36PM (#40082317)
    I will get up and change the channel the old fashioned way for the rest of the day, when i was a kid there were no remote controls, my father's TV had two big giant channel knobs on it, the first one was VHF 2 thru 13 and a "U" between the 2 and the 13 and to get UHF you put the first knob on the "U" and then it activated the second channel knob for UHF channels
    • by dccase (56453) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @08:41PM (#40082355)

      I want a button for GET OFF MY LAWN!!

    • by maitai (46370)

      When I was growing up we had (until I was 6 and the tube died) a combo TV with the radio, TV and turntable combined. And we had an actual "clicker". One button, when you pushed it it mechanically clicked, and the mechanical knob would move to the next channel.

    • I will get up and change the channel the old fashioned way for the rest of the day,

      I would do that, but my TV doesn't have a channel changer on it. It's remote or nothing.

    • by Osgeld (1900440)

      I still have a TV like that, a 19 inch Kenmore, works great for my old video games when my crappy ass 3 year lifespan LCD TV cant work with a light gun ... or bother putting current limiting inline with its futuristic LED backlight. ... fucking Kenmore is older than I am, and I was born in the 70's AND still has a decent picture!

    • Kids. Back when I was a munchkin, back in the '50s, we only had one dial for tuning because there wasn't any such thing as UHF. Channels 2 through 13 were all there were and and the only colors you got were black and white.
      • the only colors you got were black and white.

        When I was a kid we only had white. The black pixels had to sit at the back of the TV.

    • I don't think my parents' first two TVs even had UHF receivers. The portable they bought for my grandmother when she came to live with us was similar to FudRucker's father's TV (one knob for VHF, another for UHF), but, whereas the VHF knob had click stops for each channel, the UHF knob did not.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @08:38PM (#40082339)

    ... I wonder what the MPAA / RIAA / The Bad Guys would say about muting their precious commercials?

    I'm sure a "do not mute" flag would quickly appear in the DVB stream.

  • Parrot TV (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JoeMerchant (803320) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @08:39PM (#40082341)

    In the 1970s some remote controls used ultrasonics - ultra to humans, not to parrots... not sure if the bird was changing the channels on purpose or not, but it would make a whistle and the channel would change.

    • Re:Parrot TV (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rekoil (168689) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @08:52PM (#40082387)

      I remember these. They weren't even electronic - each button on the remote caused a tine to be pulled and released which was tuned to a specific ultrasonic frequency. This is why the early remotes were called "clickers" - releasing the tine made a metallic clicking sound. It also meant that random ambient sounds that matched the target frequency could cause your TV to turn on/off, change channels, etc on its own.

      There were also remotes that weren't even wireless, with a 10' long tether wire to the unit. The advertised "advantage" of these was that they didn't need batteries.

      • Re:Parrot TV (Score:4, Insightful)

        by million_monkeys (2480792) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @09:25PM (#40082547)

        I remember these. They weren't even electronic - each button on the remote caused a tine to be pulled and released which was tuned to a specific ultrasonic frequency. This is why the early remotes were called "clickers" - releasing the tine made a metallic clicking sound. It also meant that random ambient sounds that matched the target frequency could cause your TV to turn on/off, change channels, etc on its own.

        There were also remotes that weren't even wireless, with a 10' long tether wire to the unit. The advertised "advantage" of these was that they didn't need batteries.

        They should have advertised the advantage as "never lose your remote again".

        • by forkazoo (138186)

          At that point, nobody had ever lost a remote control, so it would have been a fairly unappealing selling point for a lot of people.

      • by Tanktalus (794810)

        Aw, heck, I remember having one of these as a kid in the early 80's. Once we went "cordless", we could rearrange the furniture a bit to give us a bit more distance from the TV.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        " They weren't even electronic - each button on the remote caused a tine to be pulled and released which was tuned to a specific ultrasonic frequency."

        They were also introduced by Zenith a year later, and called "The Space Command". They were far more successful than the "Flash-Matic", which had to be aimed accurately, went through batteries quickly, and the TV had to be kept out of direct lighting or the photocells on the TV wouldn't trigger, or would be triggered randomly.

        We

      • by mirix (1649853)

        Yep, Zenith 'Space Commander' used the ultrasonic chimes system, like this. I believe it was just a single frequency per button, nothing fancy, so little protection against ambient racket.

        A neat side effect was the channel would change when your wife dropped pots and pans in the kitchen. (Hey, this was the 50's.)

      • I remember these. They weren't even electronic - each button on the remote caused a tine to be pulled and released which was tuned to a specific ultrasonic frequency. This is why the early remotes were called "clickers" - releasing the tine made a metallic clicking sound. It also meant that random ambient sounds that matched the target frequency could cause your TV to turn on/off, change channels, etc on its own.

        My cousins had an ultrasonic remote TV like this. Jingling keys would cause the TV to switch channels, or mute. The TV had half a dozen or so separate tuners, each of which could be tuned to a favourite channel. Clicking the channel up or channel down buttons would switch you from one tuner to another, and thus from station to station without having to go through the intermediate channels. Great idea back in the day when even in the city there were only a handful of broadcasters.

    • Ultrasonic remotes (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MrEricSir (398214) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @09:26PM (#40082555) Homepage

      I believe I've mentioned this on here before, but my grandfather had one of the early TVs with an ultrasonic remote up until the 90's.

      The problem is certain sounds would cause it to change the channel -- particularly jingling keys or coins, flushing the toilet, or using a vacuum cleaner.

      I suspect he enjoyed demoing that for people more than he liked watching TV.

    • by GrahamCox (741991)
      Indeed, you could have minutes of fun also remote-controlling your cat. One click for "wake up" and two for "leave the room at high velocity".
    • It goes back a long time before that - the Zenith Space Command remote was acoustic and introduced in 1956. All you could hear was the "click" - hence the nickname for remotes - "the clicker".

            Brett

    • by laejoh (648921)
      So that was what John Cleese was doing during The Parrot Sketch! The batteries were gone and he was hitting the parrot on the table like we all do with our remotes :)
    • .. but the frequency range of birds hearing is even worse than that of humans. You can hear higher frequencies than your average parrot. It was probably just coincidence - the birds whistling happened to be on an audible frequency that also triggered the primitive badly filtered electronics in the TV.

  • by balzi (244602) <matthew AT awma DOT au DOT com> on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @08:49PM (#40082377)

    I can't believe this guy. He is so committed to getting in the current slashdot poll, that he's become the newest "Currently Dead Inventor".

    I will create a post in the poll comments to record his memory forever - the inventor is dead! Long live the Inventor!

  • by John Jorsett (171560) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @08:56PM (#40082417)

    My folks were in the TV sales business and I never encountered a remote like the article describes. The first remotes I saw in the 50s were wired: a big box with the channel and volume controls was connected by a thick cable to the TV. The channel tuning was mechanical (a cylinder in the set had a separate tuned circuit for each channel and channel changing required rotating the cylinder to switch in the correct one), so when you changed the channel, the tuner in the set would go *clunk* clunk* *clunk* until it got to the right one. The next ones I remember were Zenith wireless. The remote consisted of several metal cylinders that emitted a tone when struck by a mechanical pushbutton on the remote. Trouble with those was other household sounds would trigger the TV, like the metal tags on a pet's collar.

    And I'll bet almost no one here has ever encountered a vertical or horizontal "hold" control. In those days, we had to establish picture sync ourselves, AND WE LIKED IT!

    • by ACS Solver (1068112) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @09:04PM (#40082465)
      I think I just realized one of the few advantages of coming from a Soviet country - I was surprised by a remote control as a luxurious item in around 1995 ;)
    • by sconeu (64226)

      I used to sync the vertical so the frame was divided with the bottom half of the frame in the top half of the tube. Ticked my sister off no end, because we didn't have a remote on that TV.

    • by gmdiesel (1272738)

      Ah, there's someone still reading Slashdot who actually remembers this stuff, even used it. These young folks speak of the Zenith tuning fork remote as if it were a relic unearthed in an archaeological dig, and are as unaware of why we call it the "clicker" as they are wondering why we say "dial" the phone.

      • Ah, there's someone still reading Slashdot who actually remembers this stuff, even used it. These young folks speak of the Zenith tuning fork remote as if it were a relic unearthed in an archaeological dig, and are as unaware of why we call it the "clicker" as they are wondering why we say "dial" the phone.

        And what's funny is that same guy is sitting here tinkering with his Perl script that reads radio show RSS feeds, downloads the shows, resamples the audio, combines the show hourly fragments into a singl

      • by Uzuri (906298)

        Up until I moved two months ago I had a real, honest to god, working original dial phone in the house I was living in. AND I knew how to dial it. AND I'm younger than 30.

        I feel like I deserve some sort of recognition for that.

    • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @10:19PM (#40082745) Journal

      Years ago, I read a great article by Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini [asktog.com] about Transactional Analysis [wikipedia.org] and how it relates to UIs and such. I don't remember if it's in any of his books or in the Apple Developer newsletters of yore. I'm having a hard time finding it, unfortunately. But in the article, he recounts a story about selling televisions with digital remotes--back when these were brand new.

      The story goes that when TVs first got digital remote controls, the salesmen would show the customer the remote because, at the time, the ability to change the channel from across the room was new and novel and pretty cool! But the customer would always say the same thing: "I'm not so lazy that I can't get off the damn couch and change the channel!" And, let's be honest, how would you respond to that? "Actually, sir, you are that lazy. Or you will be once you have this." Keep in mind that the only time you saw a TV with a remote was in a hospital or if you had older parents/grandparents who couldn't get off the damn couch and change the channel. If you were young and spry, you had no business using a remote! Having a remote was a sign that you were old...

      Once they said that, they weren't interested in TVs with remotes and no amount of salesmanship would change their mind.

      So the solution that Tog brought up wasn't to sell the customer on having a remote control, but to sell them on digital tuning. "Digital tuning is great! No more having to fiddle with all the fine tuning knobs to get the best picture! Just choose the channel and it will immediately lock it in! No knobs to break or get serviced--after all, you should have your TV serviced every year so that you don't end up having to use a pair of pliers to change the channel. So you'll save money in the long run because there'll be less need for service! Digital tuning is a boon to mankind!"

      Once you've convinced the TV buyer that they really want a TV with digital tuning, you throw in the remote: "And the fun part is that they can then make a cool remote control to change the channels!" The idea was that you're buying a better TV that happened to have a remote (which was a smart decision) rather than buying a remote controlled TV (which was a lazy decision). In fact, so the story goes, one day the salesman neglected to even mention the remote. The customer bought the TV and salesman brought out a bunch of boxes, one of which contained the remote. When the customer said, "What's that?" and the salesman said, "Oh, that's the remote," the customer immediately started off with, "I'm not so lazy that I..."

      The whole thing is presented in the frame of Transactional Analysis and the Parent/Adult/Child context (ie, you want to have an appropriate balance of smart and cool in your products) and is a very interesting read.

      • by slew (2918)

        I haven't read this, but from your description this seems like how a therapist (playing a nurturing Parent in transactional analysis) might think that a sales person might try to sell a television (expecting to educate the customer on what they should want).

        A typical experienced sales person probably instead asks question of the customer (playing the role of the adapted Child forcing the customer into the Parent role) so that the salesperson what was important to the customer and then switch to the Adult ro

      • The day that I get so lazy that I can't order one of the kids to get up and change the channel ...

      • The story goes that when TVs first got digital remote controls, the salesmen would show the customer the remote because, at the time, the ability to change the channel from across the room was new and novel and pretty cool! But the customer would always say the same thing: "I'm not so lazy that I can't get off the damn couch and change the channel!"

        They didn't need a fancy remote not because they were not lazy but because they had kids for those jobs. I can clearly remember my father, in particular, yelling for my siblings and I to come change the channel and do any additional tuning necessary. So not only did he already have a remote it was one that would fetch iced tea, sandwiches and mow the lawn.

    • And I'll bet almost no one here has ever encountered a vertical or horizontal "hold" control. In those days, we had to establish picture sync ourselves, AND WE LIKED IT!

      Probably not many, but I do, for sure. The show "Outer Limits" played off those and other "features" very well in the opening scene of each episode. And for those who liked to mess with those controls to enhance somebody's viewing pleasure: did you every try rotating the yoke on the back of the picture tube 180 degrees? Lots of fun!

    • There were radios with wireless remotes in the 30's. The Philco "Mystery Control" used radio control to run the radio using something very much like a telephone dial.

      http://www.philcorepairbench.com/mystery/index.htm [philcorepairbench.com]

            Brett

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      And I'll bet almost no one here has ever encountered a vertical or horizontal "hold" control. In those days, we had to establish picture sync ourselves,

      I've always wondered about that - I mean, the NTSC signal hasn't changed much (the only addition was color) so it already had vertical and horizontal sync pulses embedded in the signal. And early analog descrambler boxes relied on screwing up the sync pulses so the TV couldn't lock on and decode, which is why scrambled channels rolled and had the nasty line

  • by Lord_of_the_nerf (895604) on Tuesday May 22, 2012 @09:03PM (#40082463)
    He will be respectfully tucked in between the cushions of a couch.
  • I don't think so, Nikola Tesla has been dead for 69 years.

    • I don't think so, Nikola Tesla has been dead for 69 years.

      You have any evidence of Tesla having a TV?

      • by crazyjj (2598719) *

        Haven't you heard? Tesla invented EVERYTHING! So he also invented TV, the sitcom, and the first game show.

  • The greatest value of my invention will result from its effect upon warfare and armaments, for by reason of its certain and unlimited destructiveness it will tend to bring about and maintain permanent peace among nations. U.S. Pat. 613,809, p. 7, ll.107-112.

    What actually happened was that the invention of the remote control resulted in certain and unlimited discord between husbands and wives, and among siblings.

  • or if you lose it, a 6' long broom stick works well enough to change the channel, adjust the volume, and turn of the TV from the comfort of your chair. Hint: tape a cotton ball to the end of the stick that hits the buttons, so you don't accidently break them when you miss your target. Put white masking tape on your buttons so they are more easily visible.
    • by Quirkz (1206400)
      Most of the modern HDTVs don't have buttons on the front anymore. They're around the side or even on back. It's more sleek and stylish that way, I guess. Besides, most people are using cable or some other input box to change the channels rather than the TV itself.
  • ... the explanation for death
  • That's... an oddly specific assurance.

  • ...he may just need new batteries.

  • A TV I bought in the 1980s did not have one, but 1990s did. They were an expensive option the early years. of course, in the early years you just had a half-dozen broadcast channels, so it wasnt as important to surf.
    • by CityZen (464761)

      The next turning point was when there were more buttons on the remote than on the TV. I was somewhat taken aback at some point to learn that a remote was no longer an accessory, but in fact a required item because you could not set up your TV (or VCR or whatever) properly without it. (And "universal" remotes often lacked the necessary functions as well.) But these days, I watch so little TV, I hardly care anymore.

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