A SHORT HISTORY OF THE REMOTE CONTROL
Oh sure, it’s easy being a couch potato now. Wondrous advances in technology, .particularly during the 1990s, have made it easy and fun to ‘surf’ the television channels from the comfort of your armchair. Remote controls offer everything from picture-within-a-picture technology, to on-screen programming that doesn’t even require you to look at the remote control.
As we rush towards ever greater technological advances, let us not forget the difficulties experienced by the millions who have come before us. For years they struggled with remote controls that changed channels or muted the volume unpredictably. Though proclaimed as technological marvels in their day, today those devices look extremely funny.
So come with us as we flash back to the 1950s. The decade may have been the Golden Age of television, but in the evolution of the remote control, it was the Stone Age.
The most primitive of the remotes was developed in 1950 by Zenith Electronics which decades later would win an Emmy for its pioneering work in remotecontrol technology. Zenith’s first creative idea was the clever ‘Lazy Bones’, a control with a cable that connected the television to the device. Just by pushing buttons on the remote, viewers could turn the television on and off and change channels.
‘Prest-o! Chanqe-o!’ cried a magazine ad introducing the product. ‘Just press a button … to change a station!’ The problem? ‘Trip-o! Fall-o!’ Customers complained that the cable, besides being unsightly as it snaked across the living room floor, tripped many an unsuspecting passerby.
In 1955 Zenith came up with a wireless remote. Zenith engineers invented the Flashmatic, which worked by firing a beam of light. First-generation couch potatoes accepted the new technology eagerly, but there was a glaring problem. It reacted to any kind of light, channels changed unpredictably and the sound mysteriously came and went. “So if the sun set glaringly and came through the living room window, it would hit the set and cause problems,” says Zenith engineer Robert Adler. Also, viewers who weren’t as technologically aware as they are today, had trouble remembering which button controlled which function.
It was Adler, an Austrian born immigrant, who fathered the remote-control that would dominate the industry for the next quarter of a century. Ironic when you consider that Adler, by his own admission, to this day watches no more than an hour of television a week.
In 1955 Adler came up with the concept of a remote based on ultrasonics – that is, high-frequency sound beyond the range of human hearing. Adler’s invention which Zenith introduced in 1956 and named the Space Commander 400, would react to any number of metallic noises similar to those produced by the transmitter. For example, the family dog could change channels just by furiously scratching its back legs, thereby causing its dog tags to jingle. A ringing telephone or jingling keys would have the same effect.
Today, in the Golden Age of the remote control, some 99 percent of TV sets and all video cassette recorders sold in the United States come with remote controls. So do many other electronic components, such as compact disc players, and satellite dishes. ‘Universal’ remotes, which have been around since the mid-’80s, allow you to operate several products – say, for example, the TV, the VCR and CD player – with just one transmitter rather than three separate units. Even common household functions – switchinq on a light or turning off a ceiling fan – can be performed today by remote control. In an industry that is continuously introducing amazing new gadgetry, who knows where couch-potato technology will go from here?
8 Why is it easy to be a ‘couch potato’ nowadays?
A potato chips have been invented
B advances in technology have made it possible
C armchairs nowadays are very comfortable
D the climate is perfect for growing vegetables
9 What is the second paragraph about?
A the technological developments in remote controls
B the money spent on technology
C the problems of early remote controls
D the marvels of early remote control technology
10 What was the main problem with ‘Lazy Bones’?
A The cable tripped many people.
B The cable was too long.
C The control was difficult to use.
D The control was too slow.
11 What was the main problem of the ‘Flashmatic’?
A The channels changed even with other kinds of light.
B It had a mysterious use.
C Some sets did not react to its beams.
D It broke loose easily.
12 What was another problem with it?
A It was bad for someone’s memory.
B It wasn’t technologically advanced.
C It was technically complex for the time.
D It didn’t have enough functions.
13 What does ‘it‘ in line 33 refer to?
A the living room window
B the sun
C the remote control
D the beam fired by the Flashmatic
14 What was the problem with the remote based on ultrasonics?
A It reacted to other noises, too.
B Even the family dog could use it.
C You could not hear other sounds like the phone ringing.
D It made too much noise.
15 What does the writer call ‘universal’ remotes?
A The kind used allover the world.
B The kind used for common household functions.
C The kind which are very expensive.
D The kind used to operate several appliances.