My father's radio remains a classic. Someone even wrote a book about it.
While in high school in Lawrence, Massachusetts, I often listened to out-of-town baseball games, which were broadcast on AM radio only at the time. Fortunately, my father had the best radio for tuning in to those games: a Zenith Trans-Oceanic AM/shortwave radio Model G500. This tube radio let me listen to games from cities such as Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta.
Dad told stories about how he brought this suitcase-sized radio to Korea during the Korean War while he was in the Army. He claimed to carry it with him as he was climbing up the sides of ships. Perhaps that was a tall tale, but nevertheless, it's a good one.
The Trans-Oceanic brought in more than just baseball games; there were powerful stations in smaller cities that didn't have Major League Baseball teams.
Hearing all of these stations, I started writing to them but had no addresses and thus would send mail to, say, "KDKA Radio, Pittsburgh, PA." Weeks later, I received a QSL card from the station's chief engineer. My claim to fame was listening to a BYU basketball game KSL from Salt Lake City.
What made the Trans-Oceanic so good? I attribute that to a solid design, a long telescoping antenna, and a particularly large mechanical tuner. The physically large tuner provided enough selectivity to hear KDKA from Pittsburgh at 1,020 kc (1,020 kHz) even while geographically close to Boston's WBZ at 1,030 kHz.
Nearing the 10th anniversary of my father's passing, I wanted to learn more about his radio, for it's gone and I don't recall if it was still in his house when clearing the place. While I expected to find various articles and photos of the radio online, I was pleased to learn that someone had written a book about it. The Zenith Trans-Oceanic: The Royalty of Radio by John H. Bryant and Harold N. Cones, published in 1995. The first edition, which I found on Amazon, not only covers the history of the radio's development (and radio in general), it includes photos of the many Trans-Oceanic models produced from 1946 to 1982. Indeed, the book dedicates pages to each model, with descriptions of the design and design considerations preceded by a photo of the radio and followed by a reprint of a magazine ad.
There's more, too, for the book includes a mechanical drawing of the antenna design on my father's model, plus tips on how to restore the radios. The G500 appears twice on the book's back cover (click image to enlarge).
Zenith built just one version of the G500. It sold for $99.95 and was discontinued in May 1951. The G500's "most striking visual element," according to the book, "is a circular bright brass rendering of Zenith's corporate shield in the center of the black plastic Wavemagnet." I'll attest to that, for it made the G500 easy for me to identify. I remember it distinctly.
The Zenith G500 used what the book's authors called "miniature tubes" and was "the major innovation for the Trans-Oceanic series prior to the adoption of the transistor in 1957." Another innovation of the radio's 5G40 chassis (designed in 1950) was the use of "Power Supply Adapters" that let it operate on 220 VAC or DC for use outside of North America. You can find many photos of the chassis online.
The G500 was apparently in production for only about one year. Zenith priced it at $99.95, the lowest-priced Trans-Oceanic by far, according to the book. Perhaps that's why my father bought it. For today, I found one on eBay for $299. I'd say Dad got a good deal.
—Martin Rowe covers test and measurement for EE Times and EDN. Contact him at martin.rowe@AspenCore.com