CHICAGO -- Couch potatoes everywhere can pause and thank Eugene Polley for hours of feet-up channel surfing. His invention, the first wireless TV remote, began as a luxury, but with the introduction of hundreds of channels and viewing technologies, it has become a necessity.
Just ask anyone who's lost a remote.
Polley died of natural causes Sunday at a suburban Chicago hospital, said Zenith Electronics spokesman John Taylor. The former Zenith engineer was 96.
In 1955, if you wanted to switch TV channels from "Arthur Godfrey" to "Father Knows Best," you got up from your chair, walked across the room and turned a knob.
Or you could buy a new Zenith television with Flash-Matic tuning. The TV came with a green ray gun-shaped contraption with a red trigger. The advertising promised "TV miracles." The "flash tuner" was "Absolutely harmless to humans!" Most intriguing of all: "You can even shut off annoying commercials while the picture remains on the screen."
Polley was proud of his invention even late in life, Taylor said. He showed visitors at his assisted-living apartment his original Flash-Matic and how it had evolved into the technology of today. "He was a proud owner of a flat-screen TV and modern remote," Taylor said. "He always kept his original remote control with him."
Polley's Flash-Matic pointed a beam of light at photo cells in the corners of the television screen. Each corner activated a different function, turning the picture and sound off and on, and changing the channels.
Chicago native Polley and fellow Zenith engineer Robert Adler were honored in 1997 with an Emmy for their work in pioneering remotes.