back to article Wireless remote control inventor zaps out at 96

The man who took the knobs off the TV set and made a significant innovation in wireless technology, Eugene Polley, died yesterday in Illinois, aged 96. Polley invented the first wireless TV remote control in 1955. Called the Flash-Matic, the remote was produced by US firm Zenith Electronics. The wireless remote has been hailed …


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  1. Mage Silver badge

    There were of course

    Earlier Radios in 1930s with Wireless Remote (one used an actual radio transmitter and a telephone like dial).

    Also Earlier US and even UK and European sets did have wired remotes.

    But still, a real innovator and as usual El Reg report it far better than the BBC.

    Later remotes (the first "clickers") had a tuning fork, which gave way to Modulated Ultrasonic.. Many modern IR remotes actually use the same modulation of the IR as the Ultrasonic frequency and then modulate that modulation with the OOK modulation used on Ultrasonic remotes. (33KHz to 42KHz main "carrier"). This allows good sunlight and Mains flicker avoidance.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: There were of course

      The BBC R4 report was particularly stupid.

  2. Shades

    Are they sure he's dead?

    Have they tried swapping his batteries round and smacking him against the coffee table?

    1. mhoulden

      Re: Are they sure he's dead?

      They confirmed it by pressing really hard and finding nothing happened.

  3. TRT Silver badge

    I remember...

    the clicker remotes. We used to hide on the staircase when I was visiting my friend who had one of these sets and clap loudly to annoy his parents or siblings who were trying to watch TV.

    Of course, I now want one of the old ray-gun style remotes retrofitted with a modern IR all-in-one remote.

  4. hi_robb

    New just in.

    The Memorial service is taking place on Friday, after which he'll be buried down the back of a sofa..

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: New just in.

      ....and mourners will be asked to chuck $1.50 in change, some pocket fluff, a few biscuit crumbs, some peanuts, a dead mouse and the crevice nozzle off the vacuum cleaner onto the lid of the coffin.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    96 isn't bad

    Must have been running on Duracell

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reader Question

    The remote probably has more nicknames than any other household object.

    Ours is the doofer

    What does it get called in your house?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Reader Question

      "What does it get called in your house?"

      Errm, "the remote control" ? Or if needing to be more specific then "the TV control" or "the TiVo control".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Reader Question

        The remote control? How boring.

        In almost every friends house the remote has a different name. The flipper, thingy, effijibob, dibble, and the whojimiwatsit

        Must just be us, I was hoping to get a few more in this thread but maybe its not a common thing. I like tweaker, hadn't heard that one.

    2. oddie

      Re: Reader Question

      I'm afraid I just call it 'the remote', but my friend and her family lovingly refer to it as the 'tweaker' :)

    3. Paul Dx

      Re: Reader Question

      Frank - as in zapper

    4. Poor Coco

      Re: Reader Question

      When my daughter was a toddler and mispronouncing everything, she called it “the moot.”

    5. Rasczak

      Re: Reader Question

      We call ours a hoofer, which I suspect is for the same reasons as doofer. Noel Edmonds has a lot to answer for.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Reader Question

        I worked at Radio Shack in Canada. On my first day there I was warned that the 'nuks refer to their remote control as "the convertor". It's something to do with cable TV set-top boxes, apparently.

    6. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: Reader Question


  7. Andyf


    You, Sir, owe me a keyboard.

    Have a beer, and an upvote.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ultrasonics and dogs

    I'm sure dogs were glad when ir replaced ultrasonic, mine could definately hear the remote. On the plus side it was sometimes hard to tell if it needed new batteries or was just generally being unreliable, the dog's reaction was one way to tell the difference.

    1. Steve the Cynic

      Re: Ultrasonics and dogs

      We had an ultrasonic one in the very late 70s. I was young enough and the frequencies were low enough that I could actually just barely hear it (well, something, even if it wasn't the control frequencies themselves). It was fun bouncing it off the wall behind you and still getting the TV to react, something an IR remote won't do.

      1. stucs201

        Re: Ultrasonics and dogs

        Yes I used to hear something when young enough too. Ir bouncing does sometimes work, I guess it depends on your walls and/or decor.

      2. oddie

        Re: Ultrasonics and dogs

        depends on the wall... I have still lots of random electronics in my house that I haven't placed properly yet.. (still putting together my 'media solution'... my receiver for instance is facing away from me when I sit on the couch, but a smooth door seems to be enough to reflect the IR signal to hit the sensor :)

        tbf it is a bit annoying when someone has left the door open.. the plasterboard wall itself isn't smooth enough to reflect it :(

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ultrasonics and dogs

        My sony IR could bounce off the wall.

    2. David Gosnell

      Re: Ultrasonics and dogs

      Our first rental (remember those, before they were Brighthouse in disguise?) TV with remote was ultrasonic, and picked up interference from the central heating timer, such that channels/volume would change spontaneously. Very glad to go IR with the next one, and that was long before the advent of significant numbers of channels - given that the ultrasonic remote had two buttons, one to toggle mute and the other to increase channel number (fine when there were three).

  9. FSW

    Don't panic

    Logitech probably have a copy of him in their Harmony Remote Database.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fun in Funeral

    Apparently they've lost the coffin lid and he's being held in with Sellotape...

  11. Garry Perez


    Eugene, I salute you, a brilliant invention by an unknown inventor.

  12. Wensleydale Cheese

    My parents had a remote control telly in the 1960s

    It was a Philips model. The "remote control" was actually a torch which you shone into either of two light sensors, one on each side of the screen. One muted the sound, the other changed channels.

    The channels were changed by an electric motor physically rotating the channel knob. It sounded rather like a machine gun as it went through the channels.

  13. TeeCee Gold badge

    No problem.

    There are actually six Eugene Polleys and three of the others will do everything the lost one did.

  14. Stuart 22 Silver badge

    Did he forget to patent the corners?

    His real achievement was, having invented the remote, to get off the sofa to do anything else.

  15. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Ah, remote-control nostalgia

    I remember using both wired and ultrasonic remotes at friends' homes - probably not the original Zenith products but similar tech brought out later by competitors. The ultrasonic had a clear bottom panel so you could see how the mechanism worked.

    My parents were not early adopters, and I well remember having to get up and change channels or volume manually. (There was a bit about this on Married with Children that probably now would seem impossibly dated.) Generally this fell to whoever was unlucky enough to be sitting closest to the set, in a kind of Mechanical-Turk remote-control system.

    Since the TV in my parents' bedroom was not remote-controlled, my father wired a switched receptacle and plugged the TV into it so they could turn it on or off without getting out of bed. Couldn't change the channel or volume, but apparently on-and-off was good enough.

    Cue Yorkshiremen, and GOML.

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