The Zenith Royal 500 Family

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 the more expensive battery types of other radios.

These radios 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 (over $650 of todays dollars) 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. Many will still function well today after over 60 years of service, however many would benefit from a tune-up and some new capacitors.

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 fairly inexpensive to obtain. An average example of most of these models can be found on eBay for between $40 – $80 with nice examples easily topping $100.

Enjoy! Gary

The Royal 500A – 1955 (hand wired circuit board) – Introduced in November, 1955. About the first 100,000 units were hand crafted pieces of art.


NOTE: Some early examples of the Maroon hand wired 500s came with a semi see-through (translucent) cabinet. It is not known how many of these were made, but it appears that these were the minority and collectors place a premium on them.

The Royal 500B – mid 1956 With the success of the Royal 500, the high demand made it necessary to find a way for faster production. So Zenith switched to the printed circuit boards as many other manufacturers were doing. Also, early feedback was that the small knobs were hard to use, so larger knobs were introduced. Three new colors were added to the Ebony and Maroon colors: White, Tan and Salmon (Pink). These three new colors are considered special by collectors and are always in higher demand. But it is safe to say that any early Zenith Royal 500 in excellent condition is in high demand. The suggested retail price remained at $75.00




The Royal 500D – 1957 An 8th transistor was added along with other chassis enhancements and so was the Long Distance designation. The very first ones had black lettering on the dial shields………..

………..but much more common are the ones with white lettering.



Enhanced 500D –1958 A final enhancement to the 500D came in late 1958 when the grill changed from concave to convex to allow room for a new expanded range speaker. The 500D lettering was also added to the metal face and the crown badge above it was reduced in size.




Royal 500E – Late 1959 A new look for the “Owl Eyes”. Same great long distance chassis, but these are hard to find in nice condition because the gold plating around the knobs did not hold up well. These were offered in Maroon, Ebony, or White. The suggested retail price was reduced from $75 to $59.95 for this model.

Maroon Royal 500E

Some were made as a two-tone radio with a White front and a Brick Red back.


The Royal 500H – 1961 This all new innovative transistor radio would set a whole new standard for performance in pocket radios. With a large 3″ x 5″ expanded range speaker that featured an off-set coil and innovative large ceramic magnet, it was capable of producing crisp highs and deep lows for a listening experience not hear before in a pocket radio. It was offered in Ebony, White, and two-tone Blue/Gray as for some reason, Maroon was dropped from the line. Suggested retail price was $59.95.


Royal 500L1964 The Royal 500 Model L was introduced in 1964 and it was a real step backwards for the 500 series. Although still a sharp looking radio, the output fell back to 100 milliwatts, the speaker was reduced in size, and the quality of sound suffered. Zenith decided to change to a slide rule style tuner replacing the direct drive to the tuning capacitor. This model sold for $39.95 and came in three colors: Black with a gold grill, white, and I have also seen a few in light green.



The Royal 500NG – 1965 The final chapter of the fabled Royal 500s was written with the totally different model N-G. I do not know why they named it that, but maybe because compared to the previous Royal 500, this one was Not Good. It was cheaply put together and performance took a big step backwards as the output was only half of the model H. Needless to say, this one is not sought after by collectors, except maybe as a filler to complete the 500 line. Sad way for this legendary product line to end. It did feature a lighted dial though by pressing the button on the lower right which was kind of nice.

There was also a similar version of this radio designated as the Royal 555G and named the Sun Charger. It looked the same except for the solar panel mounted on hinged arms above the radio. This unique radio was capable of operating in one of three ways: AC power cord, 4 AA batteries, or with direct sunlight. The suggested retail price of the Sun Charger was $59.95


This marked the end of the Royal 500 series.

67 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.

    1. I bought my royal 500 in 1959 and paid $75.00 for it! I am now 73 years old! I still have the leather case and it works well for its age! I have taken pictures of it and the leather case! But was curious of any value or color combinations as mine is two tone! I always removed the batteries when I stored so maybe that’s why it still works! I never realized how popular that radio was! Wa it made in Chicago? Thanks Rich!

      1. Hi Rich, the Royal 500H is very popular and growing in popularity all the time. It is now commonly recognized as the best performing radio of its size ever produced. They made them in ivory and also ebony colors. Yours is considered to be the most desirable and perhaps the scarcest color combination. Working models in average working and cosmetic condition commonly fetch around $90 and up. It was made in Chicago. Hope this helps, Gary

        1. I see everyone talking about serial numbers but nobody mentions where to find these numbers.
          Could u please tell me where to find it?

          1. Hi Glen, it is located on the post between the batteries. I will send you a picture. Gary

  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.

    1. Phil,
      Are you the Flavoradio Collector?
      I’ve been hooked ever since i bought one 40 years ago for a canoe trip.
      It fell into a lake, and I let it dry in the sun. One day later it was as good as new. Well, Kind of . At least that’s how I remember it.

  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. I just landed a burgundy 500 serial number 00491, all black rounded top Sylvania transistors, tuning cap dated 538, output transformer dated 544. See it under ebay completed auctions.

  9. 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.


  10. 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?


  11. 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

  12. 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.

  13. I have a 500E-1 that was my grandparents. I am having it restored. It is not in the greatest of condition, but it holds many memories of my childhood and my time with my grandparents. My grandma was a diehard Mariner’s fan and we listened to the games when I would spend the weekends and long summer days at their house. So, my hope is to have it in working order to listen to the Seattle Mariner’s for many years to come. It was my first exposure to “rock and roll” on the old a.m. station 950 KJR. I ordered a case for it and replica batteries. Thank you for having the pieces to help me “relive” some of my childhood.


    1. Hi Jen and thank you for your order I hope you enjoy the items you get. Let me know if your trans if your repairs go well, I will wish the best for you, even though I am not a Mariners fan. Ha, Gary

  14. Dear Gary ,
    Just discovered your excellent website , thank you.
    I started collecting transistor radios about 3 years ago . I have over 300 in my collection so far. I have only one 500 series zenith. It is maroon in color, “owl eyes” front. On the back of the radio it says Royal “500” DeLuxe and below that it says Tubeless-All Transistor. The radio is in excellent condition and does work ,picking up 8 or more stations. Can you possibly tell me what year it is and it’s value ? Thank you .

    1. Charles, if you look over my informational section on the Royal 500’s, you should be able to identify it better than I by comparing your radio to the pictures. If you want to send me a picture however, I would be able to identify it for you. Send pics to Thanks, Gary

  15. Nice and informative website. I own a maroon 500D (I think), based on your photos. I still have the leather carrying case, although with a makeshift carrying handle. It belonged to my great grandfather, then grandfather, until it was passed along to me, in the late 70s. It had worked quite well, until I checked it after a cross-country move to Florida, and discovered the dreaded battery leak. I know. It messed up the earphone jack, and caused a couple wires to become unattached at the jack. I cleaned it up, the best I could, and was able to perform a couple of crude solder connections, and managed to get it working, again. I don’t think the earphone function works, any longer, however. Who does restore these? I don’t know how long my solder work will last, and wonder if the earphone jack could be repaired or replaced. I could send a couple of photos, if you’re interested. Thanks for your time.

  16. I just got a rebuilt model 500D last week and am really enjoying it. Wasn’t cheap, but great little radio that makes me want to collect an example of each version (except the last two). Getting this radio led me to your site and I like it very much!

    1. Hi Jason and welcome to the wonderful world of transistor radio collecting. When it comes to performance, most collectors agree that Zenith is on top. They were not cheap radios at all, and only the elite could afford them in the day. But now, anyone can get a nice affordable one (or more).
      When you have some time, visit the section on this website where I give advice to new collectors. It may help you with your strategy, and can ultimately save you hundreds of dollars when making your future purchases. Gary

  17. Like your site. I just got back into collecting Royal 500s after unloading my entire collection a few years ago (more than 20). Now I’m picking some up but only the handwired ones and 500Bs. I find that after recapping them; they all need alignment. Somewhere I read that owners couldn’t resist turning the IF and OSC transformer cores in an effort to improve reception-very true statement. I have a few questions though-how does one remove scotch tape residue from the case without causing damage; though I find that a product I use to restore old telephones called “Glayzit” does a fabulous job of improving the appearance. In addition, I have a few radios which apparently have some sort of short or discontinuity in the tuning capacitor. In tube radios I usually remove the capacitor, apply high voltage and “spark” out whatever is causing the short-these variables are so small, I hesitate to try that!

    1. Hi Gary, glad you like the site. For tape I use goo gone. Apply and let it soak in for awhile, then rub off. Repeat as needed. It can be a slow process. I will have to look into finding/using Glayzit. For tuning capacitors, try blowing them out with compressed air to remove dust, then I apply a drop of oil to the ball bearings and working it in. Sometimes it is that easy, other times not so much luck. Gary

  18. A Zenith Royal 500 Deluxe was given to me with a leather case. Case is in perfect condition. The radio didn’t work. The speaker is bad and I need a replacement. I installed a smaller speaker just to try the radio out. It plays great but limited on the volume because of the speaker. Do you know where I can get a speaker for my radio? I bought the handle from you because it was missing. Your website educated me on these great radios. Thanks!

    1. Hi Terrance and thank you for your order which has been mailed. Speakers are hard to come by but I will look for you. Which model 500 do you have as there are some differences and to get an exact match makes a difference. 500A = Handwired, 500B = printed circuit owl, 500D = 8 transistor long distance owl, or 500E? Gary

      1. Its the 500 B. I replaced the caps. I found an after market speaker. Its a little bigger. I cut the magnet down and it fit perfectly. The radio sounds great! A friend of mine has a Zenith 500H speaker NOS. still in the original box never used. I think he may list it on ebay. What would be a good asking price? Thank you. Great website!!!

    1. Hi Michael, I had one a few months ago but it sold. I will watch for another one for you. This is a great place to make your wishes known as it captures your requests for me and logs it somewhere where it won’t get lost. Thanks, Gary

    1. Nice George. Good luck with the auction. I hope it brings you in excess of $100 because of its excellent condition.

  19. Trying to see what an actual value is for today’s market zenith Royal 500 tubeless 7 transistor radio
    Red brick color with case in good condition

    1. Hello Nichole, Zenith Royal 500 radios have a wide range of values. The main factors are cosmetic condition and operating condition. Cosmetics consider things like scratches, nicks, cracks, and chips. Operating condition considers if the radio can pull stations, volume of the signal and clarity of the tone.
      The Maroon 7 transistor versions can expect to fetch between $40 – $200 on ebay. For a better estimate, send me a picture of the outsides and insides along with your explanation of the cosmetic and operating condition. Thanks Gary

  20. Hi Gary,
    thanks for the informative and educational site. My long-term dream is to find a Maroon Zenith Royal 500 made in 1955. Based on the information on your website, this is a radio with a chassy 7XT40 serial number up to 100,000. Hand-wired circuit board. May be out of order. I would love to buy from you.
    Best wishes

      1. Thank you very much for your positive response. Gary, my top priority is 1955 (because I was born in 1955!), Maroon. The quality of the cabinet and performance are not important. I hope my knowledge as radio amateur is enough to repair the receiver myself. The renovation process itself brings joy. You know this as well as mine. Best wishes!

    1. Congrats Phil. Hope you got a pretty penny for it. Yes, I sold #00100 last year, and have seen a couple in the 03,000 range, but other than that, nothing interesting. Gary

    1. Hi Tim, Yes, I think I do, but they are scarce and expensive though. I will let you know what I find. Thanks, Gary

  21. Hello Gary, may be I asked the same question already in the past. Some time ago I found a Royal 500A with a pretty low S/N of 10950 and Sylvania transistors. This radio shows a big “S” capital letter stamped on the variable capacitor. I can’t remember nothing similar among tens of photographs of that I saw of 500A radios. On the other hand, I saw some internal pictures of the Royal 780 showing a big capital “E” stamped on the capacitor. Any chance of getting information about what the meaning could be of these letters? Thanks.

    1. Hi Daniele,
      This sounded familiar to me so I went through my 500’s and found the same thing on an early translucent maroon one serial # 9,130 with black transistors. I just figured this was some sort of inspector stamp but don’t really know. Final inspectors were assigned a number and they would stamp a little brown paper with their number. Later, hand written numbers replaced the stamps. Thanks, Gary

  22. Gary I do not know how to contact you so I will try this. By chance do you have a charging station for the Zenith royal 27. I have the radio and am finding it hard too find the charging station.

  23. I recall having gifted my dad with this exact same radio when I was 11 years old, maybe 10. The most fascinating feature I discovered with the 1965 Zenith Sun Charger Royal Solar Powered Portable Radio, was the radios ability to operate under the incandescent power of the light. That is without having batteries or being plugged in the radio would operate under the power of a lamp in my dad’s bedroom. I thought the young pre-teen, “wow this is so neat, we’ll never have to buy batteries again!” I’m sure that’s what all the battery manufacturers at the time also thought and likely bought out Zenith’s patent to reproduce the radio. But imagine my shock when I unplugged the radio, and then take the batteries out, and “then” turn on the lamp and all of a sudden music starts coming out of the radio speakerI was amazed

  24. Just rec’d my grandfathers Royal 500!! It’s old and a little crusty. I wonder how I can find someone who can repair and clean it up a bit. Any ideas?

    1. Hi Bob, if you still need help cleaning up your radio, I may be able to assist you. Let me know. Thanks, Gary

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