An Obsession Begins

Note: This started out as just a note to myself on how to ID the various T/Os I would run into. It growed 8*).

Why TransOceanics ?

During its life the Zenith TransOceanic Radio was the finest tube-type portable shortwave radio in the world (but then I'm biased). The fact is that it had everything necessary to be a luxury item - fine craftsmanship,often to military specs (two models, the R520/URR and R520A/URR were sold to the Signal Corps). Tremendous performance. And a price tag calculated to keep it exclusive: $130.00 at a time when a new Buick could be had for under $1800.00. When the all transistor Royal-1000 came out in 1957, the price doubled. Today this would probably translate to about U$2500.00.

When World War II broke out, the Clipper was the only truly portable shortwave radio in America (might have been in the world - do not know about that but am sure someone will tell me ). Quite a few of the original 30,000 saw service in the war and the Commodore's nose for publicity milked unusual stories for all they were worth.

Between giving away ones from his "personal stock" (before production ended in 1942, several thousand had been stored in a vault at Zenith) to celebrities and stories of T/Os surviving being blown up in the Pacific and restored with cannibalized tank parts in Europe, ads flowed from Chicago even though the radios did not.

By war's end, the economy was booming and the T/O became a symbol of that era's luxury. Even at very high prices for a radio, three quarters of a million tube type T/Os were sold through 1962.

The transistor versions were introduced in 1957 and now there was some competition particularly from Grundig in Europe. Add in the fact that there were some quality problems in the 1000s and 3000s and Zenith lost ground fast. The Royal 7000 of 1968 tried to regain ground and failed. The even better R-7000 of 1979 tried and failed again for the last time.

Even as Harley-Davidson was losing ground to Honda, Zenith lost more to Sony.

But forty years later, the same quality that priced Zenith out of the market the Commodore created meant that good units still survived and people started to notice. As a result while the recession of 1991-1994 dropped prices, good examples still abound and there is nothing that will draw visitors quite like a T/O in the living room.

For a complete history see: "Zenith TransOceanic, The Royalty of Radio" by The Radio Professors (ISBN 0-88740-708-0). Not quite biblical in accuracy, still the definitive starting point for any serious discussion and entertaining in its own right.

Why Me ?

Have been obsessed with the Zenith TransOceanic Radio for almost forty years, just did not realize it until recently. Growing up in south Florida where every yacht had one and many houses had two (in case of hurricane), they were so common as to be almost as inconspicuous as a table lamp.

Today I realize that the one on the porch must have been an G-500 while the one I was first permitted to touch was either an L or R-600 just as now I realize that my grandfather must have had similar feelings (everything in my grandparents house was Zenith from the three four-tone remote control (Space Command) TVs in strategic locations (but not the living room) to the clock radio by my Grandmother's bed, even to the am/fm unit in the "garage quarters".

My first personal T/O was a gift from my grandfather, a Royal 1000-D (he had an identical one except that his had the gray leather case) that kept me in touch with the USA through an endless tour in Southeast Asia but after 1970, school and then family somehow removed the T/Os from my life - not that I didn't periodically feel the pangs - I remember seeing an R-7000 in a catalogue around 1980 or so and finally deciding that it was just too much money for a radio.

Was into automobile restoration for most of the '80s and early '90s and occasionally would see one or two sad-looking T/Os sitting under tables at swap meets usually with an asking price of $150 or so and that I could pass up.

Late one year, the inevitable happened: Had sold off part of my fleet and a friend mentioned that there was to be an antique radio show at the fairgrounds. Now what he did not mention was that the whole show could have been held in the ticket booth at the fairgrounds it was so small, but there were three T/Os on hand, a very tired 600, an acid burned H-500, and a pretty H-500 with a price tag of $75.00. Resisted it that day but three weeks later, the nice H-500 was by my computer at home. That was the beginning of the end...

Today, I probably have exceeded any possible rationale being (have more than enough for every room) but am still missing a R-520A/URR and am still trying to track down the history of this strange faceplate (hint, hint 8*).

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