Zenith, the Trans-Oceanic, and some "food for thought"


Versatile multi-band radios as well as calculators also held my interest during adolescence. After seeing Geoff Quickfall's recent post with links and photos of the vintage Zenith Trans-Oceanic radio, I was enticed to purchase a similar one. My 1981 Sanyo AM/FM/SW/cassette "boom box" hasn't worked well at all the past few years.

I just received a T/O Royal D7000 from 1969 similar to Geoff's; everything functions well, sounds very good, and has only minor cosmetic flaws.

So, why a vintage radio instead of a modern one with digital tuning, informative display and other convenient features? For the same reasons I find H-P's calculators of the 1980's appealing -- indisputable quality, rock-solid construction, no-nonsense design, American engineering (and also assembly in this instance). The Trans-Oceanic (T/O) series -- and particularly this version -- is legendary.

I also respect what Zenith once was, up through the 1980's: a 20th century American company making high-quality radios and CRT televisions. I'm still using a 1988 19" CRT Zenith whose NTSC picture is still as good as new, when I bought it for $329. Our family had owned a 1962 Zenith B/W TV (with tuning-fork remote!), later replaced by a Zenith color TV in 1975.

Zenith was driven from the radio business in 1982 largely by a Sony multiband radio -- smaller, cheaper, and with digital-display tuning -- that outcompeted the last T/O from 1979. (It should be mentioned that the latter did incorporate significant circuit-design advancements from my 1969-1978 model of the T/O).

Zenith's last significant technological upgrade in conventional TV was the "System 3" chassis in 1978 that was utilized for more than a decade. (Zenith also invested developmental work in HDTV in the early 1990's.) Most production was shifted to Mexico in 1985, but the TV sets were still very good.

Zenith Data Systems also made PC's for the US government in the 1980's, under a program that cost Zenith much money and led to the sale of that division to Groupe Bull of France in 1990.

Today's Zenith-branded HDTV's and converters are made and serviced by LG of South Korea, which acquired Zenith in 1995.

This year, the US government mandated a switch to digital over-the-air TV broadcasting. As far as I know, however, no mass-market US manufacturer engineers and builds HDTV receivers. For a few years, the same has applied to CRT televisions. Now, how much money do Amercians spend every year on television sets? Even if the US can't make world-class consumer products at a competitive free-market price, it's not a good situation when we can't make them at all.

Does this saga of lost pre-eminence, offshored manufacturing, and withered commitment to product development sound familiar? There are many examples of it today...

-- KS

Edited: 25 Apr 2009, 11:24 p.m.

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