Shalom Life | October 25, 2014

My Olympic Channel-Surfing Prowess Made Possible by a Jewish Inventor

The late Robert Adler credited with the first wireless TV remote

By: Daniel Horowitz

Published: July 31st, 2012 in Business » World

My Olympic Channel-Surfing Prowess Made Possible by a Jewish Inventor

It was during a particularly exhausting evening recently where I , equipped with my television remote control, bag of Israeli sunflower seeds, and Diet Coke, was forced to perform some physically demanding channel surfing as I switched back and forth from a baseball game, to NBC’s Olympic coverage, to CTV’s better Olympic coverage, and back again.

Man, good thing I had stretched prior to this aerobic activity, lest I pull something.

Anyway, it was during my frantic surfing when I thought to myself, “Hmm, I wonder who I can thank for making this evening possible, without me being forced to (Gasp!) actually get my ass off my couch, and walk those two steps to the set, where I would have to turn the channels manually.”

Manually? Are you kidding? Haven’t our people been through enough already!?

Anyway, as fate would have it, I found that the man credited with the modern day television remote was a Jewish Zenith employee by the name of Robert Adler.

And, while Mr. Adler departed this world at the age of 93 back in 2007, his invention, which began life as somewhat of a whimsical novelty but has since grown into an almost necessity thanks to more than 100 channels, continues to thrive in homes across the globe.

A physicist with 180 patents to his name, Adler was born in 1913 in Vienna and left Austria after the Germans took over the country. He came to the US in the early 1940s where he was hired by Zenith.

Adler is credited with improving on an earlier wireless TV remote known as the Flash-Matic, designed by a fellow Zenith employee, Eugene Polley. Unfortunately, that device had some issues with sunlight which, when shone on a TV screen, would see channels change, and the set go on and off, all by itself.

Enter Adler. His next incarnation of the device, known as the futuristic sounding Space Command, used high frequency sound waves that could not be heard by humans. Unfortunately, the Space Command, like its predecessor, was also far from perfect, as its functions could be set off by the sound of jangling keys or coins. Still, it was better and more reliable, and remained the standard until today's infrared remotes were introduced in the early 1980s.

So, to you, Mr. Adler, I thank you for making me the Gold Medalist in the Couch Potato Olympics I am today, and as I prepare for another evening in front of the TV watching the London Games and a baseball game from somewhere, I raise my remote in your honour!

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