Ed Bedford 11:44 p.m., June 19
Chances are you weren't familiar with the name Eugene Polley when the newscaster announced his death over this morning's coffee. Without his invention, chances are Americans would have been forced to take in a little more exercise as they rose up from their easy chairs to walk over to the flat screen and manually change channels.
Eugene Polley, the Zenith Electronics engineer who, along with Robert Adler, was responsible for inventing the wireless remote, died of natural causes Sunday at a suburban Chicago hospital. He was 96.
As early as 1950, and with only 3 or 4 channels to surf, the Zenith Radio Corporation had already introduced a remote control device known as the "Lazy Bones." The hard-wired luxury item quickly became outmoded in 1955 when Polley developed the "Flash-Matic," a wireless device that operated by shining a beam of light onto a photoelectric cell built into the television set.
The early remotes were highly sensitive to light and prone to changing channels when receivers were placed directly in the path of the sun. Users of the Paleozoic devices frequently played the part of contortionist while trying to point the beam directly at the corresponding photo cell.
My Uncle Abe was the first member of the family to own a remote control color TV and I can remember visiting his apartment to watch the first color Oscar-cast in 1966. The Zenith "Space Command" remote used utlrasound to change channels with a click of a button, hence the term "clicker."
Polley and Adler were honored in 1997 with an Emmy for their work in pioneering TV remotes.