Many thanks to a number of SWLing Post contributors who’ve shared a link to this excellent article by Denny Sanders in Radio World Magazine about the history of the Zenith Transoceanic:
Zenith Trans-Oceanic Radio in War and Peace
This iconic portable receiver was known for durability and quality
They say necessity is the mother of invention. Nothing proves this more than the story of how the iconic Zenith Trans-Oceanic portable radio receiver came into existence.
Commander Eugene McDonald (1886–1958), the founder of Zenith Radio, was a stickler for quality and insisted that any Zenith product represented cutting edge technology and design integrity.
He was also an accomplished yachtsman. During his many ocean voyages, he constantly was frustrated with the inability of any portable commercial radio set to perform reliably at sea. In about 1939, he ordered the Zenith R&D department to come up with a rock-solid, portable AM receiver sensitive enough to pull in signals from great distances. He insisted that the radio be a multi-band unit including shortwave, marine and aircraft bands.
The Zenith crew came up with a gem: the Trans-Oceanic, a gorgeous piece of engineering housed in a robust and dramatic cabinet designed by the brilliant Zenith industrial designer Robert Davol Budlong.[…]
Sometimes when browsing eBay you’ll come across a hot item that wasn’t even on your wish list or Followed eBay Searches. This was the case for me early last month when I spotted a new listing for a Zenith Royal D7000Y-2 Trans-Oceanic that’s arguably the best performing T-O ever made. It’s not the most collectable (the final R7000 series has that distinction), but is the final model with the desirable band spread tuning arrangement. The D7000Y is also the last of the hand-wired Trans-Oceanics. Some claim this model has the best audio of the transistorized T-Os, too.
I watched this Buy-It-Now auction for three days and was very surprised it remained available, especially after noticing its superior condition compared to other auctions for the same model. Finally on the third day I pulled the trigger–I’m not a collector of vintage radios but I couldn’t miss the chance to let this fine old Zenith follow me home. At a Buy-It-Now price of $219 including cross-country shipping, it seemed like a no-brainer decision.
When the radio arrived–packed extremely well–it was in ever better condition than pictured and described (I’d call it 9.8 on a 10 scale). The package included the original hang tag, QA stickers, owners manual, service manual, marketing literature and even the original monaural earphone and AC power cord. All dial lamps and the chart light worked fine. The previous owner said the T-O was fully aligned a year ago, and indeed I found that the reception quality on the built-in whip antenna is great. I’d love to know where this receiver was stored for the last 38 years; it was clearly someone’s gently used, cherished Zenith.
A folder of high resolution photosof this receiver can be viewed here.
Compared Against the Sony CRF-320
Besides simply enjoying receivers I get a kick out of comparing them against each other, and against various other ones owned by my radio hobby friends. Thanks to the loan of a vintage Sony CRF-320, I was able to directly compare it to my Zenith Trans-Oceanic Royal D7000Y-2 receiver. My friend’s CRF-320 is the equal of my Zenith in condition and quality. Each of us would like to own both of these radios!
This is an interesting pairing, since the Zenith was among the last of the premier, USA manufactured portable receivers (analog only, all hand-wired chassis), and the CRF-320 was an equally prestigious portable receiver of the “latest technology”–digital/analog readout with printed circuit board construction.
Once a leading receiver brand, Zenith did not react quickly enough to changing trends and business climate after the death of its founder, Commander Eugene F. McDonald. The 40 year old (1942-1982) proud line of Trans-Oceanics gave way to new, semi-automated methods of building receivers with inexpensive labor from Asia.
After an initial production run of the next (and last) R7000 series, manufacturing was moved to Taiwan. The receiver was built just as well as the previous Royal D7000, but used PCBs inside and the useful band spread frequency ranges were done away with (at the expense of ease of tuning). Still, Zenith T-Os couldn’t compete on price or performance against the Sony CRF-320, and the R7000 Trans-Oceanics were the last (and now most collectible) versions.
This YouTube video compares reception of these two vintage receivers with mid-morning signals on the 31 meter band, from the Seattle area:
Both radios were used with their built-in whip antennas although I couldn’t extend the Zenith’s its final four inches due to ceiling height in the room.
In my opinion, the CRF-320 is superior in keeping signals steady with its AGC, but the D7000Y-2 excels in audio quality and is neck-and-neck in most other respects. The Zenith may have performed a bit better with weak signals if the ceiling in my kitchen was a few inches higher! (Both radios have substantially long built-in antennas, and each are very well matched to their circuitry for excellent reception.)
I’ve been active on eBay since 1998. As with garage sales, the chances of an excellent “find” increase with the time spent in the pursuit. Sometimes you just get lucky though and find a very desirable item remaining unsold for days, such as this Trans-Oceanic! It’s all about being in the right place at the right time. Since I’ve bought the receiver I’ve yet to see any other D7000s of equal or better quality, despite some with Buy-It-Now prices of up to $450 plus shipping (edit 12/16: I spotted one that appears in equal condition to mine, but for a Buy-It-Now of $675 + $40 S/H).
Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington. He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.
“Just a quick story to follow-up on the excellent Zenith Transoceanic article today. It brought back a lot of great memories!
About twenty years ago I decided to collect some of the things that I couldn’t afford when growing up. I acquired quite a number of Hallicrafters receivers and other “heavy metal” including several transmitters (including my Viking I AM Transmitter). In the process of our last move, I got rid of a lot of the collection. One part of the collection that I did keep was my Transoceanics. If I remember correctly I have every major model except the military one mentioned in the article and the very last one.
Here is my story is about obtaining a “Bomber” as described in the article. I was visiting a gun show at the North Carolina Fair grounds in Raleigh (I went there with a friend who is into Civil War collectables). Anyway, we were walking around and I spotted a small dusty suitcase on a table in the back of a booth. It was closed and to anyone else it looked like an old carrying case. However, by the size and the brown leatherette-grained case I thought it just might be a “Bomber”.
I tried not to act too excited and asked the seller what it was. He said it was an old radio and I asked him to bring it out. Sure enough, it was a Bomber! Still trying not to act too excited, I tried to let on that I didn’t know what is was and asked him if it worked. He said he didn’t know. I made a point of saying that it was missing the dial cover (but the pointer was there and unbent and the inside looked pretty clean and even had its “Wave Magnet”).
I asked him how much he wanted and he said $100. We haggled a bit over the condition and I finally got it for $75. I walked away very happy and excited!
I spent some time cleaning it up, de-oxing the contacts and then used a VARIAC to slowly bring up the voltage to reform the electrolytics. But guess what? IT CAME TO LIFE!
I was even able to get the Sam’s manual and do an alignment. I don’t recall that I had to change any electrical parts or tubes and I even found a guy that made a replacement dial cover! It’s not as shiny as the one in the article but it was sure a great find. It proudly sits on the bookshelves in my office along with the Zenith “Sailboat” AM receiver mentioned in the article and my other Transoceanics. I’ve attached a picture of the two side-by-side. [See photos above]”
Many thanks, Bob, for sharing your “barn find”–or should I say “gun show find”(?)– Zenith “Bomber.” What a great story. I’m glad it’s in the hands of someone who has restored it and can appreciate its history. Indeed, your story proves that you never know where you’re going to find a vintage radio deal.
Zenith Model 7G605, the first in the line of Trans-Oceanic radios. Credit P. Litwinovich collection via WSHU
Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Paul, who points out this excellent article about the Zenith Transoceanic by Paul Litwinovich of WSHU. Litwinovich’s article covers a brief history of the Zenith Transoceanic series including photos from his amazing collection (check out his model 7G605 above).
Here’s a short clip from his full article:
“The first version of Zenith Trans-Oceanic line of portable shortwave radios, the 7G605, [above] was released less than two months before the Pearl Harbor attack. It bore the sailboat image, and continued to be known as the “Clipper.” It sold for $75, and was an instant success. It was just the beginning, though, of the series’ long and colorful history. Zenith planned to heavily promote the radio for the coming holiday season. Then, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor came. Most manufacturers halted production of consumer goods for the war effort. Zenith had other plans for their new radio, though. They changed the image on the grill from that of a sailboat to the likeness of the B-17 bomber. The change was implemented in such a hurry, that collectors have reported finding the bomber grill inserted over the top of the sailboat grill.”
Saturday morning, I drove to Waynesville, North Carolina, for the Western Carolina Amateur Radio Society‘s annual hamfest. I’d attended this small-town hamfest before; it has always been enjoyable, as I met friends and even found a few radio bargains.
The Zenith TransOceanic, above, attracted a lot of attention, including mine. But this year, I had more modest goals: $100 and a specific shopping list, which consisted mostly of components (adapters, connectors, jumpers) and a decent dual-band mobile antenna. I ended up spending $85, including $7 entry fee, and checked off literally everything on my list. Among my purchases were:
Dual band 5/8 whip antenna with large mag mount: $45
SMA to SO239 jumper: $5
PL259 to BNC adapter: $3
I also found a couple of extras, including this Realistic Tape Control Center (below) for $1. It will make an ideal speaker switch box for my boat anchors that currently share one quality audio transformer (600 to 8/4 ohms). I discovered that this box had been used by its previous owner for a similar purpose.
My best bargain at this hamfest, however, was this brand new ground buss system (below) for just $20!
The family who manufactures and sells these ground busses also sells antennas and a few other radio accessories. Unfortunately, they do not sell online (else you’d see a link here) only at local hamfests such as this one. The $20 price is an absolutely amazing one for this ground buss system. All one has to do is connect the braid to the ground terminal on each piece of radio equipment, and connect the ground wire to a ground rod. It’s packaged and ready to deploy–everything else is already assembled. Wow!
I viewed many other goodies at this hamfest that, alas, I had to pass on. Here are a few photos:
This restored wood-paneled tube radio (above) was very tempting, but in order to avoid making the purchase, I intentionally didn’t ask the price.
This Sky Buddy (above) really caught my attention, and if I had $250 extra, I would have purchased it. The Sky Buddy is not an extremely rare Hallicrafters, nor is it a particularly strong performer, but it is very rare to find one in such beautiful condition that’s not been modified or restored–a completely mint original.
Perhaps I’ll regret not making this purchase…sigh! I just hope it will find a good home.
I was also tempted to buy this Grundig Top Boy 500 (above), circa 1972. Twenty dollars was certainly a fair price, but the seller had bought it at an antique sale and had not yet tested it. Additionally, it had a German plug, and runs on 220 VAC or C cells. Upon handling the radio, I also found myself a little concerned by the fragility of its plastic body. The antenna design, however, is pure engineering genius: it’s recessed in the top of the radio’s handle.
This Drake PRN-1000 (above) was produced by Drake as a promotional item for the People’s Radio Network (more info). It’s the progenitor to the Drake SW1. The PRN 1000 is very basic; it has no memory functions, no SSB, and no synchronous detection. It’s a mediocre performer, frankly–not on par with other Drake offerings–but certainly an interesting piece of Drake history. I’ve seen PRN 100s for sale before. The $50 asking price from this seller was quite reasonable.
The “Frog 7” (above) is a classic shortwave receiver and has great audio if you use an external speaker. My good friend, Mike Hansgen (K8RAT), loves his recently acquired FRG-7 so much, he named it “Freda.” Mike snagged Freda for $125, by the way, a much better price than the $240 this seller wanted for his FRG-7.
Just out of curiosity, how many SWLing Post readers cut their teeth on the Yaesu FRG-7?
All in all, it was a great little hamfest (thanks, WCARS!) thoroughly enjoyable, and I look forward to making the pilgrimage to Waynesville again next year. See you there!