Zenith Radio Corp
Written by Bryce Ringwood   

Zenith was founded by Ralph Matthews and Carl Hassel in Chicago, Illinois as Chicago Radio Labs (CRL) in 1918 as a small producer of amateur radio equipment. The name Zenith was derived from the founder's call sign, “9ZN”. This small company had acquired a valuable asset in the form of an Armstrong regenerative receiver patent licence. The fledgling company was joined by Lt Cdr Eugene F McDonald in 1921 and Zenith Radio Company was finally incorporated in 1923. McDonald was a financier who already had considerable success in automobile financing and was able to provide much marketing and business expertise for the company.

In common with many companies, the 1929 depression caused great hardship to a company whose business was up-market radio products. To counter this, the company brought out an affordable “Zenette” range of radios. They produced their first TV set in 1939 and in 1956 produced their first transistor radio.

During the war years, they must have contracted to the military, since my first sort-wave radio was a “Wireless Set No. 19 Mk2” made by Zenith. (There is probably a story behind this radio – alas mine is no more.) The second Zenith in the family was (still is, I suppose) a Zenith Royal '300' made in 1957. It must have been one of the first transistor sets to reach the UK.

Zenith's most collectable range of radio is undoubtedly the 'Trans-Oceanic' series, with the valve version being produced in 1942 (the G500). Many versions were to follow, my version the Royal '1000' was produced from 1958 and contained transistors, but was constructed like a valve set – no printed circuit boards to be seen.

Zenith began making computer equipment in the 1980's and renamed itself to Zenith Data System's. By this time, the radio and TV business was unprofitable because of increased Japanese competition. It was, however the beginning of the end. I purchased a Zenith flat-screen CRT computer monitor around 1985, they were clearly still making high-quality products, but the price was also high. This monitor was heavy, because it contained a mains isolation transformer.

By 1999, it was all over and Zenith filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. LG, who already held the majority of the shares bought out the remainder of the company. The Zenith brand still exists – but you are really buying an LG.

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