Menus Subscribe Search
timemachinerobot

Your Granddaddy’s TiVo

• March 19, 2013 • 4:00 AM

Inventors have been trying to find a way to silence ads since way before Spotify, Pandora and Grooveshark

Turns out fast-forwarding through commercials with your TiVo isn’t exactly a new concept. Irritated audiences have been looking for ways to tune out broadcast advertisements since at least the Great Depression.

In the early 1930s, Professor Gleason W. Kenrick of what is now Tufts University developed a machine that could be attached to a radio to automatically “delete” ads. It also targeted excessive on-air talking, which was apparently just as irksome pre–Rush Limbaugh as it is now. The device was a clunky looking, dial-studded box, but the March 1934 issue of Radio-Craft magazine preferred to imagine it as the anthropomorphic pepper grinder seen above.

Kenrick’s machine “listened” for a quarter second of silence—something one would hear during talking but not music—and then muted the radio for ten seconds. One problem: a pause in a piece of music could make the gadget silence a chunk of your Grand Ole Opry broadcast.

Innovators are still trying to perfect ad-defeating technologies. Since the late 1990s, broadcasters have sued several makers of digital video recorders over their various ad-skipping features. The networks, of course, are terrified these machines will kill their business. They have a point: Without ad revenue, who’s going to produce programming? Maybe that’s what we’ll need the robots for.

Matt Novak
Matt Novak writes about past visions of the future for BBC.com and Smithsonian.com.

More From Matt Novak

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 12 • 4:00 PM

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Plastic Bags

California wants you to pay for your plastic bags. (FYI: That’s not an infringement on your constitutional rights.)


September 12 • 2:00 PM

Should We Trust the Hearts of White People?

On the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, revisiting a clip of James Baldwin on the Dick Cavett Show.


September 12 • 12:00 PM

Big Government, Happy Citizens?

You may like to talk about how much happier you’d be if the government didn’t interfere with your life, but that’s not what the research shows.


September 12 • 10:00 AM

Whispering in the Town Square: Can Twitter Provide an Escape From All Its Noise?

Twitter has created its own buzzing, digital agora, but when users want to speak amongst themselves, they tend to leave for another platform. It’s a social network that helps you find people to talk to—but barely lets you do any talking.


September 12 • 9:03 AM

How Ancient DNA Is Rewriting Human History

We thought we knew how we’d been shaped by evolution. We were wrong.


September 12 • 8:02 AM

Give Yourself a Present for the Future

Psychologists discover that we underestimate the value of looking back.


September 12 • 8:00 AM

I Walked Through the Financial Crisis

Why are former Wall Street employees guiding tourists around the Financial District? Paul Hiebert signed himself up and tried to find out.


September 12 • 7:05 AM

Scams, Scams, Everywhere


September 12 • 6:17 AM

In Soccer as in Art, Motifs Matter

A new study suggests a way to quantitatively measure a team’s style through its pass flow. It may become another metric used to evaluate potential recruits.


September 12 • 4:00 AM

Comfort Food Is a Myth

New research finds that, contrary to our beliefs, such foods don’t have any special ability to improve our moods.



September 11 • 4:00 PM

Reading the Camouflage Uniforms in Ferguson: ‘You Are Now Enemy Combatants’

Why are police officers wearing green or desert camouflage in a suburban environment?


September 11 • 2:00 PM

Wage Theft: How Two States Are Fighting Against Companies That Categorize Employees as Independent Contractors

New York and Illinois have passed hard-nosed laws and taken an aggressive tack toward misclassification.


September 11 • 11:03 AM

Yes, I’m a Good Person. But Did You Hear About Her?

A new study tracks how people experience moral issues in everyday life.


September 11 • 11:00 AM

Searching for Everyday Morality

Experimenters use text messages to study morality beyond the lab.


September 11 • 8:00 AM

The Geography of Uber

If it continues to grow—and there are few reasons to think it won’t—will Uber transform the infrastructure of cities or glom onto what’s already there?



September 11 • 6:05 AM

One Man’s Search for an Orgasmic Life Force

It remains unclear what “orgone” actually is, but Wilhelm Reich thought you could find it by sitting inside a box.


September 11 • 4:03 AM

Jack the Ripper’s DNA: Was Aaron Kosminski Behind the Whitechapel Murders?

Russell Edwards says he’s solved the mystery. His proof might be a little threadbare.



September 10 • 4:00 PM

The Average White American’s Social Network Is Just One Percent Black

And three-quarters of white Americans report that they haven’t had a meaningful conversation with a single non-white person in the last six months.


September 10 • 2:00 PM

Eye on the Fly

The tiny fruit fly has been beloved by developmental biologists for more than a century. Turing patterns may yet explain its shape.


September 10 • 10:02 AM

Why Do Women Earn Less as Mothers and Men Earn More as Fathers?

For women, becoming a parent means you can expect to earn even less over your lifetime—unless you’re Marissa Mayer.



September 10 • 7:00 AM

Is Back Pain Ruining Your Sex Life?

You might be doing it wrong.


Follow us


Big Government, Happy Citizens?

You may like to talk about how much happier you'd be if the government didn't interfere with your life, but that's not what the research shows.

Give Yourself a Present for the Future

Psychologists discover that we underestimate the value of looking back.

In Soccer as in Art, Motifs Matter

A new study suggests a way to quantitatively measure a team’s style through its pass flow. It may become another metric used to evaluate potential recruits.

Searching for Everyday Morality

Experimenters use text messages to study morality beyond the lab.

Is Back Pain Ruining Your Sex Life?

You might be doing it wrong.

The Big One

One country—Turkey—produces more than 70 percent of the world's hazelnuts. September/October 2014 new-big-one-2

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.