In 1959, Japanese Competition Begins Like a Storm

By 1959, Japanese had exported 6 million transistor radios to the United States. As Japan’s fourth largest export, this represented $63 million in products. Faced with the tide of Japanese consumer electronic imports, many American electronic companies turned to military contracts where they were to earn record sales and profits. Zenith transistor radio division was in a battle "royal", literally, to maintain an exceptional quality product and to lower prices to compete with the Japanese transistor radio imports—most of which were good performing radios.

For 1959, the Royal 500 line was revamped with the introduction of the Royal 500E model. The radio was offered in ebony, maroon, white, and a less common two-tone version with a white front and red rear. The case was restyled with a bright gold plated upper third and larger tuning and volume control knobs. The Royal 500E chassis is the 8CT40Z2. Electronically, it is basically identical to the older Royal 500D. The radio was introduced at $75.00 but the price was reduced soon to $59.95 to be more competitive. It is extremely rare to find a Royal 500E without face plate damage. This radio continued the Royal 500 tradition with excellent sensitivity and sound quality. I have serviced a number of these radios and found the interstage audio transformer primary to be open. This seems to be a fairly common problem.

In the right pane
is view of the chassis of my 1964 Royal 500E1. To cut costs, the radio was designed to eliminate the audio output transformer. The audio is directly coupled to the speaker. This was a smart move because there is no loss of audio quality. However, the circuit requires a 2 gang on-off switch. The exterior of the radio is identical to the Royal 500E.

Here is the front of my Royal 500E. There is just the slightest blemish visible on the radio's face.

The is a view of the 8CT40Z2 chassis of the Royal 500E

Royal 500E1 Chassis

The next 1959 radio is the "All-American" Royal 250. This particular radio has a clearly marked manufacturing date of 9-18-59. This is an interesting radio, since appears to use the same printed circuit board as the Royal 275, modified for the 6-transistor circuit. As pictured below, there is a hole in the printed circuit where the oscillator transistor would have been installed. Also, the Royal 250 does not have vernier tuning; although the Royal 250 and Royal 275 have the same size knobs. The production date for the pictured Royal 275 is Apr 1962, three years after its first market introduction.

The picture above shows the Royal 250 (left) and the Royal 275 (right) chassis. As you can see, there is a hole where the oscillator transistor would be installed. The Royal 250 radio sold for $10 less than the Royal 275. The savings came from modifying the Royal 275 printed circuit board to work in the Royal 250, eliminating the separate oscillator transistor and the associated components; also, by using a cheaper tuning capacitor without the vernier tuning.There is really no performance difference between the two radios, other than the vernier tuning convenience on the Royal 275. The Royal 250 reflects Zenith's ingenuity in lowering costs, while trying to maintain a quality product.


The next 1959 radio in the collection is the Royal 275. This radio was given the marketing name of "Statesman." As a cheaper radio, it has a plastic case rather the nylon one. These were two toned radios either dark brown and a tan back, dark blue with a light blue back or black with the beige back. Many of these radios have chipped away corners caused by owners trying to pry open the case to change batteries, not realizing that a screw held the back cover in place. This radio has the chassis designation of 7CT40Z1. This radio was marketed at $49.95 retail. "Junk" 275 chassis are a parts bonanza for repairing Royal 500 radios since the chassis are practically identical.

Here is the Royal 275 in the dark blue/light blue cabinetcombination.

Here is Royal 275 in the dark brown/tan cabinet combination.

In 1959, Zenith introduced the Royal 900, a table model radio that closely resembles the popular All-American 5 tube table radio. These tube radios were relatively cheap and reliable and were found in almost every American home. This radio sold for $69.95, many times more than an AA5 set and required batteries as well. The public really had no incentive to buy this radio. Perhaps, the Royal 900 has ended up being the rarest of all Zenith portable transistor radios. In the last 5 years, I have seen only two examples for sale on Ebay. This radio is not as collectable as other rare Zenith models and does not command the price such as the highly desirable and stylish Royal 800 model. The radio has the chassis designation of 7AT44Z1. It has a beautiful cabinet design and a 4" speaker. The radio will run year(s) on 8 "C" cells. Here is picture of my Royal 900 that has the black/beige cabinet. I believe that this radio must have been on a tight production deadline. I had to service my set and found the PC board/chassis combo looked almost like "breadboard" layout in places. The layout of the circuit appears to have gone into production without a final design to clean things up. The electronic construction in this set is not consistent with most other Zenith models. Also, the set has very poor sensitivity, tuning only local stations.

Next in 1959, Zenith decided to upgrade the highly successful Royal 750. The new model was called the Royal 755. Early production models were called the Royal 755LF which had the ferrite rod antenna mounted in a rotating handle. This allowed the handle/antenna to be rotated for best reception. However, placing the hand on the handle interfered with the best reception. Shortly, Zenith did away with this design, returning the antenna rod to the interior of the radio cabinet.

Here is picture of my Royal 755LF that features the antenna within the carrying handle.

Zenith changed the design, returning the antenna internal to the radio chassis and adding a leather carrying handle.

With ever-increasing Japanese import competition, Zenith introduced the Royal 100 "Zenette" radio at a more favorable price point of $39.95. To cut costs, the radio has a 6 transistor chassis, plastic case, and painted trim. This radio is Zenith chassis 6ET42Z2. The radio is powered by 3 "AA" batteries. With a 2-3/4" speaker the radio has a commendable audio quality. Here is a picture of my "Zenith".

You can see several wear-through spots on the "painted chrome" trim; the radio has a pullout prop stand

The 6ET42Z2 chassis still had both interstage and output audio transformers