Sometime in mid 1956, Zenith started the transition to printed circuit boards which allowed for faster production to keep up with the rapid demand for these popular sets. The earliest of these models are known as the second generation Royal 500 or 500B. Engineering changes to the chassis helped to improve the performance of these sets over the first hand-wired ones.
Some external changes were also made to the second generation. Most visibly, the knobs were redesigned for easier operation. The tuning knob received a collar to protect the numbers for the tuning scale. This collar had a pointer line on it. The very first 500B’s lines were black and thin, and some of these are the “hybrid” models discussed earlier on my handwired page. Zenith quickly changed that to a broad white line which shows up better. Zenith also expanded their color offerings with the addition of new colors white, tan and pink. The tan and pink versions were produced in limited quantities and command a premium today. However, I believe the white version is the hardest to find in excellent condition as they tended to yellow over the years.
Zenith usually produced these radios with gold metal trim and grills, but some have silver metal parts. If you have a black or tan cabinet 500B, you most likely will have gold metal trim, but I have seen some black and tan ones with silver metal trim also. I am not sure why they did that. I am partial to the gold, but a silver grill and face is an interesting variety also.
In 1956, Consumer’s Report conducted a test of the first transistors radios and proclaimed the Zenith Royal 500 the industry leader in performance and sound quality. So Zenith promoted this by attaching a sticker to the back of the 500 battery door advertising this to potential buyers. These stickers were meant to be removed after purchase, but many proud owners left them on and some radios can be found with these stickers still in good condition today. What a bonus!
The Royal 500B is a true American icon and are very popular with collectors today. Zenith produced about 200,000 of them with the serial #’s continuing up to about 300,000. Most transistor radio collectors have at least one Royal 500B in their collection with black being most common color.
|Model:||Royal 500B – Second Generation|
|Colors:||Black, White, Maroon, Tan, and Pink|
|Year introduced:||Mid 1956|
|Size:||5 1/2 x 3 1/4 x 1 1/2|
|# of transistors:||7|
|Power:||4 AA batteries|
|Undistorted output:||100 milliwatts|