First Universal Remote

And you won’t believe who invented it. In the mid 1980s there was no such thing as a universal remote. Not that most people needed one either… back then a wireless remote was a pretty big deal. If you had more than one you were probably a bigwig and wanted to show them all off. One visionary saw the need for something to control all your home entertainment options (such as they were, with tube TVs, VCRs and whatnot.) That pioneer was…Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer.

Yes, that Steve Wozniak. The one who was on Dancing with the Stars a while back.

Back then, Woz saw the need for a learning remote. Of course that’s standard procedure for remotes today but back then it was a big deal. He founded CORE and produced the ugly specimen you see above, the CL9. It didn’t have any pre-programmed codes but could learn any code from any universal remote. Only the number keys were labeled.

Back then this bad boy would set you back $200, or put another way, an average car payment for a nicely tricked out Honda Civic.

This was really a very simple device, far simpler than anything you’ll get at the drugstore, but every great technology has to start somewhere. And, unlike today’s remotes, it came with a large manual and several floppy disks to help you get started.

This remote was more powerful than many home computers of the day, carrying the same 6502 processor found in Apple ][s and Atari 800s. It let you store an amazing 4,096 codes, although it might have been hard to remember what all of them were since the keys weren’t really labeled.

Did people need universal remotes back then?

Really, they probably didn’t. One remote for the TV/cable box, one remote for the VCR and they were probably all set. But the flexibility of this device really made it work. It wasn’t just for your TV and VCR. You could use it to control anything with an infrared port. You were just starting to see infrared ports back then and it was open season. Having one of these remotes was like having a magic wand.

The CL9 lived on for a long time. The technology and the company were both sold and eventually found their way into healthcare applications due to the remote’s durability. It took the better part of a decade for technology to catch up with the CORE CL9 and even when it did, the remote was still made for special purposes. It was that good. The patents eventually expired in 2005 If you want to know more or even if you’re interested in restoring an old CORE CL9 remote, check out this page we dug up over at the Internet Archive. It’s pretty amazing when you think about the life that this little remote has led.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.