A Man Who Had a Great Influence on How I Watch TV has Died

Robert Adler may not be a household name but I can safely say he’s had a tremendous impact on how I watch TV. It’s safe to say his work has had a ripple effect on how everyone watches TV from shows on the network to local news. Robert Adler was the co-inventor of the TV remote control. He died this past week at the age of 93. Thanks to this device, a commercial break means the viewer could click over to something else (in pre-TIVO days) without the exertion of getting out of your easy chair or off the sofa. If the show was slow plot-wise or you needed to see how some local story was being covered on another station, all you had to do was hit the remote. With a remote in the hand and a quick thumb or forefinger on the trigger, it changed viewing habits and created headaches for anyone involved in trying to keep an audience tuned in to a particular channel.
These days it’s hard to find even a cheap TV that doesn’t come with a remote control. Granted, that remote may not do much more than change channels but it still is a remote control. I can remember the first time I ever saw a TV remote control. It was at the home of a wealthy relative I was visiting back in the late 60s. First, it was to a large console type color TV in the master bedroom. At a time when I was living in a home with seven kids and two adults we had
just one TV. It was a 19 inch color TV. Meanwhile, these relatives had three TVs including this 19 inch color job in the bedroom. The remote was a large boxy affair about 4 inches square and about an inch or so thick. It seemed to me that it operated with a loud “click” sound when you hit the button and the channels would only change in one direction from channel 2 to channel 13. Still, it was a remote control.
Many years later I remember buying a 19-inch TV with a remote control and I was so proud of it. I remember seeing some TVs and a number of VHS machines that had wired remote controls. These were remote controls attached to the devices with a thin wire. It worked okay but people were forever tripping over the wire. That was the downside. The upside was that you never lost the remote. All you had to do was start at the TV or VCR and follow the wire to the remote.
Now, I find it hard to fathom watching TV without the remote. As a matter of fact, I keep the remote close by when I watch any program. That’s because I generally give anything I’m watching about ten minutes and if I don’t feel it’s worth my while, I flip to something else. Yes, I’m a typical viewer and have developed the habits that drive programmers and managers crazy.
Yes, I could use the exercise of simply getting off my rear end and walking the two steps to the TV to change the channel. But thanks to Mr. Adler, I can give my thumb a good workout on the remote while letting my posterior grow to “lard-butt” proportions. Isn’t it great to live in America?

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2 Comments on “A Man Who Had a Great Influence on How I Watch TV has Died”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Joe!
    I think the unit you are describing was the “Zenith Space Command” remote controller. You could change channels back and forth, turn it on and off but, nothing else. Volume, was controlled at the set. The set sounded like a copy machine running off paper when activated.

    I got a good beatin’ one time for opening it up and looking inside. 2 silver colored bars being hit one or the other by a metal tab, sent the signal.

    I also remember being assaulted by the family dog everytime you hit the changer. He hated it! My brother would make money from us by hitting the changer and then take off running with “Doggo” in pursuit. The rest of us would be stuck watching the “Time Tunnel” for a while on Friday’s, until he came back minus “Doggo”.

    PS> In case you are wondering, they do not work on our “better halves” or children.

  2. Anonymous Says:


    this isn’t for this thread but wanted to let you know we are THRILLED with Tracey Rogers at 5. Such a breath of fresh air and REAL!! heard from many she’s worked with and it’s not temporary. fingers are crossed here.

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