In 1958, Zenith Transistor Radio Good Times Continue

1958 was good year for Zenith transistor radio production and sales. By now, the transistor radio had become hugely popular with the public. Market pressures from imported transistor radios were just starting to emerge. Zenith made a major upgrade of its Royal 500 series. The upgraded radio was named the Royal 500D and was produced in three cabinet colors: maroon, ebony, and white.

The most significant changes were the addition of a broadband RF amplifier stage, improvement to the IF amplifier, and the introduction in some models of an inverted cone speaker for improved sound quality. Later Royal 500D models have the letters 500D painted on the cabinet front. Having serviced both the earlier 7 transistor Royal 500's and the newer 8 transistor Royal 500D models for many years, I have been able to critically compare the performance of the 2 radios. It is amazing the improvement in performance made by the broadband RF stage. The older 7 transistor chassis requires the radio cabinet to be rotated to align the radio with the station for best volume. Also, it does not have nearly the night time DX sensitivity of the 8 transistor D model radio.

Here is a picture of my two Royal 500D models. The one of the left is later production since the 500D is painted on the gold bezel. The Royal 500D kept the appearance, size, and batteries of earlier models. The 8 transistor chassis of the maroon Royal 500D is 8AT40Z2; the ebony radio has chassis 8AT40. The radio continued to be marketed for $75.00 retail.

The next 1958 transistor radio in my collection is the Zenith Royal 200. This was an offering by Zenith of a transistor radio at a reduced price. The Royal 200 retailed for $44.95. To bring this radio to market several corners were cut. First, the radio does not have the break-resistant nylon cabinet but rather a plastic enclosure. This cabinet is very prone to cracking and chipping. Many surviving 200's have less than perfect cases. Second, the dial markings were painted on metal and wore easily. The radio has the 7 transistor chassis 7AT48.

I was lucky to find a Royal 200 that has an undamaged case as well as like-new dial painting.

An interesting feature of the Royal 200 is that the PC chassis faces outward.

Here is my Emerson Vanguard 888. There are many physical similarities between the two radios.


Pictured below is the Royal 850 clock radio. This radio was sent for repairs. Upon opening the back, I thought something looked familiar. I looked up the radio's service information in Sam's TSM-6 to find that the radio is the Royal 200 chassis mounted sideways. Also, it features smaller vernier tuning, rather than large non-vernier tuning of the Royal 200 portable. A label on the radio bottom denotes the clock movement was imported from West Germany. Unbelievably, the clock still runs!! This radio had very severe battery corrosion to the inside back lid. Apparently, the radio had been stored on its backside with dead batteries. Otherwise this radio looks almost new. These radios are very scarce. Selling for $85 in 1958, the radio was 2-3 times more expensive than an All-American 5 tube clock radio. Therefore the Royal 850 did not have a mass market such as the Royal 500 series.

Photo courtesy Tim Richie

Photo courtesy Tim Richie

You can compare this chassis with that of the Royal 200 pictured above to see they are the same.
Photo courtesy Tim Richie

Photo courtesy Tim Richie


One of the most elegant and expensive transistor radios produced by Zenith was the Royal 950. The radio is a "golden triangle" affair that swivels on a base stand. One face is the clock, the next the radio dial, and the third is the speaker. The radio features an imported 7-jewel Swiss clock movement. The dial surrounds are plated with 17-karat gold. The radio has chassis 7AT46, which is a variation of a Royal 500. This radio sold for $150.00 retail; quite expensive for its time. Here are pictures of my Royal 950 radio. However, this is a 1959 model since the top has beveled edges. The radio plays well and the clock will run for weeks with some occasional TLC. The radio uses a single "D" cell to power the clock. Unfortunately, some owners forgot and left a dead "D" cell in the radio. Many of these radios have been internally decimated because of battery corrosion. Be careful to check for corrosion damage before purchasing one of these Zeniths.