A Zenith Trans-Oceanic Radio Family

Text — Marty Goffe
Photo — Leonard Goffe

the Zenith Model G500, Model H500, Model R600, and the Model T600

From l. to r., the Zenith Model G500, Model H500, Model R600, and the Model T600.

Shown in the photo are four hot collectible radios with a cult-like following similar to the Volkswagen van of the sixties and seventies. The founder of Zenith Radio, Eugene F. McDonald, was a yachtsman and outdoorsman who instructed his engineers to design a radio, powered by batteries, or 110 or 220 volts which would be able to tune in to weather, amateur, international short wave (SW), marine and local broadcasting bands primarily for use on their boats and yachts.

By early 1940, engineers had designed a radio meeting the requirements and named it the Zenith Trans-Oceanic Clipper. Since design requirements were required to put it on the market for general public acceptance, it was not ready until early 1942, but by then, the United States was in World War II. After production of just a few thousand of these radios, Zenith switched to military electronics thus ending the Clipper model series.

After the war ended, Zenith resumed production of the Trans-Oceanic with a completely redesigned face naming it the Model 8G005. It was priced at about $125 near double the price of a smaller Zenith which resembled the Trans Oceanic but received AM only. Named the Zenith Universal, it sold for $59.95 — there was no discounting in that era.

The 8G005 was discontinued in 1949 and was replaced by the Model G500 with a similar appearance but improved electronics. The Zenith on the left is a G500, part of my son’s collection. In May of 1951, the G500 was replaced by the H500 with further electronics improvements. The radio, second from the left, is shown with a widened face and circular dial (station indicator.)

Another improved Trans-Oceanic, Model 600, was introduced in early 1954. The 600 was gradually refined electronically and appropriately redesignated with prefixes such as R600 and T600. These models now featured full slide rule dialing making station selection more precise in the short wave bands.

The third Zenith in the photograph, an R600, is in the closed position showing what it looks like in the luggage-appearing mode. Its frontal appearance is exactly the same as the fourth Zenith which is a T600. The R600 whip antenna shown for short wave reception, extends to a maximum length of 51 inches.

All four of the Zeniths in the photo have the whip antenna in the same position. These tube-type Trans-Oceanics were made until 1962 since by now, transistor radios were the norm. Each of the four shown weigh 16.1 pounds and are powered by either a five pound 757 battery pack or 110 volts AC/DC or 220 volts AC/DC. The cabinets are 17 1/4 inches wide and 11 inches high making for a heavy, cumbersome “portable radio.”

Reception on these vacuum tube Zeniths is on AM and seven short wave (SW) bands only — no FM. This was an ideal radio for devout short wave listeners and remains so in 2014. In April, 1957 the Trans-Oceanic was priced at $159.95 as advertised in the National Geographic Magazine — far greater than the average household radio of the day. Counting 1940 as the prototype year, The Zenith Trans-Oceanic vacuum tube-type radio had a model name life span of twenty-two years – greater than any other radio ever. ( A limited number were made for the military during the war.)

The lengthy Trans-Oceanic model name is one of the contributing factors in its desirable cult-like appeal today with asking prices of up to $500 — with no FM band.

Some comments made by owners of one or more of these Trans-Oceanics are:

  • It receives signals where other radios fail.
  • Why are we so crazy about radios made in the fifties?
  • It covers AM and short wave only — no FM, but I still love my Zenith!
  • (As told to me when we still lived on Long Island) —

I have thirteen Zenith Trans-Oceanics. When I retire and move to Florida, I will take them all with me. None are for sale !

In a future article, the arrival of the Zenith transistor Trans-Oceanic and the FM band.

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