The Zenith Royal 500 Family

Royal 500's

The Zenith Royal 500 was one of the longest running transistor radio series. It’s life spanned from it’s introduction in November of 1955 to it’s exit in 1965. During those 10 years, it went through 7 styling changes and several performance improvements. The first four styles were nicknamed “the owls” because their appearance resembles an owl at first glance.

The Royal 500 represented the “top of the line” for Zenith pocket transistor radios and was extremely popular with the public. Their cabinets were made of an “unbreakable” nylon (instead of plastic) which allowed it to hold up better to use over the years. They were known for their superior performance and the early ones were powered by seven transistors when most other radios used only 4 or 5. These 500’s were designed to be powered by 4 inexpensive AA penlight cell batteries which made them economical to operate in comparison to other more expensive battery types of other radios.

These were rather large pocket radios measuring 5.5″ high, 3.5″ wide, and 1.5″ deep and they weigh 15.5 ounces without batteries. Their initial purchase price in 1955 was high at $75.00 and the price remained that until 1959 when the price was reduced to $59.95.

One of the nice features about collecting Zenith Royal 500’s is the fact that they all use penlight (AA) batteries that are easily found today and most still function well after almost 50 years. So you can still enjoy listening to them. Many other early transistor manufacturers used cells that are either expensive or obsolete today, or have “stopped working” so those radios now are good only for display. For the collectors who enjoy taking a step back in time while listening to their classic, I recommend that you choose a Zenith Royal 500. After all, why not get the top of the line? They are fairly easy to find in good operating condition and reletively inexpensive to obtain.  An average example of most models can easily be found on ebay for between $30 – $60.

In the pages that follow, I will share with you some of the examples I have been able to collect and the information I was able to gather about the Royal 500 line. Just click on one of the links below to start your tour. Once inside, remember to click on a photo to enlarge it, then click again to make it life sized.  Enjoy! Gary

24 thoughts on “The Zenith Royal 500 Family”

    If you haven’t seen this site check it out. Fascinating info on the 500’s. The pride of my collection is an early 500 s/n 25 thousand and change. I purchased it from the original owner. The interesting thing is both the knobs have the white triangle pointer. Based on the informartion found in the above site there are a few other construction anomalies as well. Shows Zenith was scrambling to produce these as fast as possible.
    I enjoyed your site. Nice job-keep collecting. Rob.

  2. Gary,
    I received the Zenith 500 Royal earlier in the week. I cannot believe the beautiful condition of this 50 year old transistor radio!…..and I definitely cannot believe the sound quality.
    Thank you so much! I will buy my next transistor from you. Thanks again!

    Dr. Bradley Cobb

  3. Great sight Gary. I began collecting Zenith Royal 500 radios several years ago and have not stopped yet. All play well and are in like new condition. The ones I received that were not playing well I had repaired by experts who know these radios. Nothing as great as listening to these old radios which I do every day. They pick up distant stations better than the full size radios.

  4. If you are lucky enough to be able to find a 500 that is in like new condition, you really have something. Very hot collectables they are. Everyone wants one that looks and plays as close to new as possible and they are hard to find. I am glad that you enjoy them by playing them because that is exactly what I do also. I believe they were meant to be heard. Thanks for your comments

  5. More plaudits for Norm Smith’s book on Zenith Transistor Radios. However he may have perpetuated the idea that the 7XT40Z and 7XT40Z1 were improvements on the original 7XT40 when I believe that the ‘Z’ was added to signify Raytheon transistors and the ‘Z1′ signified Texas Inst. transistors. That may be why there is no defineable serial number break for these other chassis numbers, they were used at any time during that first year of production when Sylvania transistors (less expensive) were unavailable. See McGarra’s website for more information. He has SN 506, a 7XT40Z and SN 1653, a 7XT40. I have number 2600 and 6270, both 7XT40.

  6. One other thing, the longest running production of any one series of radios was the 30 year run of the Realistic Flavoradio. Of course, who cares (sniff).

  7. We all seem to be in the contest for lowest serial number, but perhaps the rarest of this breed are the crossover 500’s (500AB?) made during the change from the handwired chassis to the printed circuit type. These models have the vernier tuning and new knobs but are still on the steel handwired chassis. They seem to be scattered in the 90,000 to 120,000 serial numbers. They are easy to identify from the front because of the thin black station pointer (replaced on the printed circuit jobs with a wide white line. I wonder how many of these ‘hybrids’ were made?

  8. Hi Gary, Just received a Royal 500H in very good shape. Yes, I can see why the old timers like this radio. It will go along side of my Royal 400, Royal 3000-1 and Royal 51. All of which are fun radios. Thanks for the great site and all the excellent information and links.


  9. Hello,
    Great site and i am a new collector of the Zenith 500.
    I just purchased a maroon one with the chassis number of 7zt40z1 for five bucks at a yard sale. It is in nice condition after I clean it up. Can you tell me about what year it was produced and any value?


  10. I was given 2 Royal 500`s by my father-in-law that he received from his father-in-law. He was an engineer that was a specialist in transistors and worked for Zenith in Chicago. The story goes that his boss wanted a special case made for his wife, Chartreuse in color and so 1 was produced. It was presented to his wife and she did not like the color so it was returned and he decided to keep it. Just curious if you have ever come across a 500 that was this color and if this story is possibly true. Thanks.

    1. Hi Brian and thanks for sharing your story. It could be true, however I have never seen one like it. I enjoy hearing about and collecting the different Royal 500 variations that Zenith produced over the years. Do you possibly have a picture that could be shared? Thanks, Gary

  11. Does anyone know what was the starting serial # for Royal 500 in Nov. 55
    Mfg’s didn’t always start at zero

    1. Hi Ken, I assume that it all started with #00001 because I have seen #00046 and #00017. And these numbers stayed sequential on the Royal 500s until other models like the Royal 800 and Royal 300 were introduced in mid 1956 and 1957.

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