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 of these models can 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.
The Royal 500A (hand wired circuit board) – Introduced in November, 1955 About the first 100,000 units were hand crafted pieces of art.
The Royal 500B (with printed circuit board) – Introduced in mid 1956 This allowed for faster production to keep up with demand.
The Royal 500D – Introduced in 1958 An 8th transistor was added along with other chassis enhancements so was the Long Distance designation.
Enhanced 500D – Late 1958 The grill changed from concave to convex to allow room for the new expanded range speaker.
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. The gold plating by the knobs did not hold up.
The Royal 500H – 1961 This all new innovative transistor radio would set a whole new standard for performance. With an large expanded range speaker with an off-set coil was capable of producing crisp highs and deep lows for a listening experience not hear before in a pocket radio.
Royal 500L – 1964 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. It sold for $39.95 and came in three colors: Black with a gold grill, white, and a few in green.
The Royal 500NG – In 1965, the final chapter of the fabled Royal 500’s was written with the totally different model N-G. I don’t know why they named it that, but maybe because compared to the previous Royal 500’s, 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.
This marked the end of the Royal 500 series.