Hand-Wired Radios in the Late 1960s
By Phil MacArthur
Never dismiss a seemingly insignificant radio out of hand. Phil MacArthur describes how he learned that lesson. (Editor)
Most of us spend a fair bit of time shopping for radios -- on eBay, at flea markets, through radio meets and yard sales, and, of course, A.R.C. Our eyes are well trained to spot even a square inch of a Federal, a Catalin, a Trans-Oceanic, a reverse painted transistor. Not as much as a mental note is wasted on those boxy, ugly, AM/FM and clock radios from the 1960s and up. Will anyone ever want to collect those??!
So when my wife brought a cheap looking AM/FM table set she found at the Salvation Army store for a buck, I wondered how I could tactfully explain to her that it wasn't a tube model and was therefore not worth anything. I planned to talk about how price competition had resulted in flimsy PC boards and poor workmanship. As part of the lesson, I popped the back off -- and dropped my jaw. Inside was a steel chassis, completely hand-wired with socketed transistors and all U.S. components.
Figure 1. A front view of the hand-wired Zenith, model unknown, chassis No. 8NT121.
Figure 2. A bottom view of the Zenith, chassis No. 8NT121.
This was a Zenith chassis #8NT121 (model tag missing) with date codes from February 1966. Figure 1 shows a front view of the set. Figures 2 and 3 (see print version) show bottom and rear views of the chassis. I had thought that once Zenith adopted the PC board for the Royal 500B in 1957 that the only remaining hand-wired steel chassis products were the Inter-Oceanic (through 1970) and the Trans-Oceanic (through 1982) lines -- the high-priced stuff.
More 1960s Models
I started buying more 1960s Zenith AM/FM transistor table sets to see just how long Zenith continued this ideal. I found a Model X480, an AM/FM/clock set with chassis No. 8XT22, date coded June 1967, identical to the above No. 8NT121.
Next came a Model Z476, chassis No. 8ZT18, AM/FM/clock radio, date coded April 1968, with a printed circuit riveted to a steel chassis, but with a separate hand-wired FM sub-chassis. There are no transistor sockets in this one.
Next came a Model A411, shown in Figure 4. This is an AM/FM with chassis No. 8AT18, date coded September 1969, with the heavy PC board riveted into a steel chassis. However, this one has soldered Motorola transistors and Japanese capacitors, and the FM front end is on the PC board with the rest of the circuitry. Figure 5 shows a chassis view of the set. You can tell that by 1970, engineering was beginning to lose the battle with the bean counters.
Figure 4. A Zenith Model A411, date coded September 1969, which has the heavy PC board riveted into a steel chassis.
I haven't yet found any examples from 1970 or 1971, but by the time the Model E414 AM/FM appeared in 1972, production had moved to Korea, the steel chassis was gone, and all parts were from Japan.
I'd like to find the model number of that radio in Figure 1 with the No. 8NT121 chassis. Perhaps other manufacturers had similar heavy-duty, hand-wired units in their product lines. I guess we're all going to have to search a little more slowly through the markets -- there are some real sleepers out there in those unassuming polystyrene boxes.
After 25 years of teaching in Key West, Florida, Phil MacArthur and his wife June happily retired and returned to the "four seasons Northeast." (And while we were gone, you guys invented the snow blower.) He collects Zenith Royal 500s and Trans-Oceanics, as well as the (probably famous) Realistic Flavoradios.
Figure 5. A view of the Zenith Model A411 chassis.