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 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.

Enjoy! Gary

The Royal 500A (hand wired circuit board) – Introduced in November, 1955dsc08804

The Royal 500B (with printed circuit board) – Introduced in mid 1956dsc08757

The Royal 500D Long Distance – Introduced in 1958DSC06539

Enhanced 500D with expanded range speaker – Late 1958DSC08050

Royal 500E – 1959Maroon Royal 500E

Royal 500H – 1961Grey 500H front

 

Royal 500L – 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. R500WL

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 very 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. DSC08399

 

33 thoughts on “The Zenith Royal 500 Family”

  1. http://users.arczip.com/rmcgarra2/royal500.html
    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

  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
    Oklahoma

  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.

    Al
    N0CEK

  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?

    thanks
    greg

  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.
    Brian

    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
    00000
    10000
    20000
    30000
    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.

  12. 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.

    Sincerely,
    Jenn

    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

  13. 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 .
    Charles

    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 ballgandc@hotmail.com. Thanks, Gary

  14. 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.

  15. 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

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