Seven Decades of Channel Surfing

Channel surfing was born more than 7 decades ago when the first TV remote control was developed by Zenith. Called “Lazy Bones,” the remote used a cable that ran from the TV set to the viewer. A motor in the TV set operated the tuner through the remote control, rotating the tuner clockwise or counter-clockwise when the buttons were pushed. Although customers liked having remote control of their TV sets, they complained that people tripped over the unsightly cable that snaked across the living room floor. In 1955, Zenith engineer Eugene Polley invented the “Flash-Matic,” the industry’s first wireless remote. It operated by means of four photo cells, one in each corner of the TV screen, using a highly directional flashlight to activate the functions that turned the set on and off and changed the channels. The Flash-Matic did, however, have its limitations. If the TV sat in an area in which the sun directly shone on it, the tuner might begin rotating. In 1965, Zenith came out with the "Space Command 600" remote, which could also adjust color hues. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the industry moved to infrared remote technology, which worked by using a low-frequency light beam that was so low the human eye couldn’t detect it. Wireless remote controls are now a standard feature on virtually all consumer electronic products, including TVs, DVD players and recorders, VCRs, cable and satellite boxes, and home audio receivers.