I recently heard an ad for the new Crane CC radio which claims to get up to 80 hours of playing time on a set of 2 AA batteries. Early Zenith radios advertised that they “can pay for themselves because they use inexpensive battery cells available everywhere – instead of expensive battery packs that other radios use”. They even put a colorful sticker on the backs of some sets that claim to “save up to $25 a year on operating costs of other sets”. This claim was based on four hours of daily use and standard battery service life. Some well preserved sets still sport this label which is pictured below.
If you have read this blog, you know that one of the things that attracted me to collect Zenith transistors is that they use common batteries that can be found today at the dollar store. The Royal 500 and other pocket Royals all use AA “penlight” batteries. Zenith continued the use of common cells with their portables which use either “C” cells or larger “D” cells.
Some of the other early brands such as Silvertone and Arvin designed their sets to use a round 9 volt that battery that is difficult to find (mail order) and expensive ($11 each plus shipping). Attempts to use today’s square 9 volt battery results in disappointment because they don’t fit (even if you change the clip). Later, Silvertone switched and went to penlights with their Metalist line. Even the Regency TR-1’s battery is difficult to find at 22.5 volts and costly too.
I have heard claims from other collectors about how a set of batteries in their Zeniths would last for well over a year. Ever wonder how long a fresh set of batteries would last on your Zenith? When these radios were made, the batteries were all general purpose, unless you went for a higher end mercury battery. With the development of alkaline and ultra alkaline batteries, I decided to conduct some tests.
A Royal 50L loaded with new alkaline batteries turned on to normal listening volume lasted 14 days before it faded out. That was 336 straight hours of constant playing on two batteries. On day #8 of the test, the temperature dipped to the 30’s in my garage and I thought the test was about over as the sound started to fade. But two days later back into the 50’s and it bounced back until day 12 when the sound quality started to suffer again.
I took my near mint Tan Royal 500B and loaded it with (4) new alkaline batteries and set it up to play at normal listening volume in my garage starting on 10/16/2009. It played and played and kept playing well past the end of the Royal 50 (test #1) and quit on 11/10, a full 26 days of continuous playing or 624 hours!
In my bathroom, I have a Royal 900 which is in rough cosmetic condition but in A-1 operating condition. For those of you who are familiar with this scarce model, you will recall that it runs on 8 “C” cells – quite a load of batteries for a small table portable. Well, I loaded this radio up with new alkalines on April 1st (no fooling) of 2009 and I am currently monitoring the life of these batteries.
Now this test is somewhat different from my previous two tests because this one is for just normal use (not continuous use). I turn this radio on for an hour each morning and that is all. If 4 AA’s lasted over 600 hours of continuous use, just think how long 8 C’s should last with just daily use! I will get back with you on the results of this test….sometime in the year 2012 probably.
Just before Christmas I started another test with a Royal 50K indoors. I started playing it at normal listening volume level on December 23 and it played continuously on a new set of 2 alkailine AA batteries until January 13 (22 days) when it required me to increase the volume setting to maintain the output. It went another 4 days with deteriorating quality of sound until it was all but dead. Total playing time, 26 days or 624 hours. Take that CC.
Try your own test and let me know the results when you are done, but be patient because it will take awhile.