Dec 14
Thursday
Radio Stratosphere
THE ZENITH COMPANY AND THE STRATOSPHERE

The company began in Chicago, IL in 1918 as a small producer of amateur radio equipment. The name "Zenith" came from its founders' call sign, 9ZN, and Zenith Radio Company was formally incorporated in 1923.

It is one of the few radio manufacturers to survive the Great Depression; and the Zenith Company did more than just survive, it began to thrive by the 1940's. In the 1920s, Zenith was the 12th largest radio manufacturer in a growing $400 million dollar a year radio industry. In 1941, Zenith passed industry giant Radio Corporation of America (RCA) to become the number two radio manufacturer in the U.S, just behind the Philco Corporation.

The Great Depression took its toll on radio manufacturers like Atwater Kent, Majestic and many obscure radio manufacturers because they failed to adapt swiftly as adverse consumer market conditions caused sales to plummet. In the Roaring 20s there were over 150 radio manufacturers. By 1935 there were less than 50. Zenith's design, engineering and innovation would keep them at the top of their industry for years and well into the television age.
Ironically it would be this same radio product design, engineering and innovation over eighty years later that would keep Zenith radios at the top of radio collector's lists, commanding some the highest prices ever paid for vintage radios.

1933 marked major advancements in radio and was also the year that Zenith Radio Company would embark on one of the most ambitious efforts to raise industry product standards.
In early 1933, Commander Eugene F. McDonald, the President of Zenith Corporation, directed his engineers to design and build one of the world's most sophisticated radios. In late 1935, the Zenith Stratosphere model 1000Z would start rolling off the assembly lines.

The Zenith Stratosphere model 1000Z was no ordinary radio, and the year the construction started was no ordinary time in history. Zenith would produce only 350 of these unique high-end radios in 1934 and 1935. Because of Zenith's failure to understand how to market to the limited, high-end All Wave radio market, it took them four radio model years, from 1934 to 1938, to sell all 350. The $750 price tag contributed to sluggish sales as well.

In 1936, Zenith would take key features from the 1000Z and transfer them to their newest line of radios. The standout feature used on most of Zenith's 1936 radios was the large, easy to read, black "Magnavision" dial. In Zenith's 1936 product brochure the headline read "A New Improved Radio Incorporating Every Modern Engineering Advancement."

The 1935 Zenith Stratosphere was all about "Incorporating Every Modern Engineering Advancement." This radio set a new standard for the radio industry and helped Zenith reinvent itself as it used features and modern cabinet design in its 1936 and 1937 model lines. Their advertising literature would say, "Ask for the Radio with the Black Dial."

One of the hallmarks of the 1000Z is the movie theater like sound system. It is the Stratosphere's amplifier, powered by eight 45-push-pull tubes, that achieves the radio's 50 watts and drives the two Jensen A-12 speakers and horn tweeter at a 5 percent distortion rate. The clever circuitry gives the listener a bass response that I've never heard from other radios from that era. The only radio that can remotely compare is the McMurdo Silver V. Zenith's engineering and design teams raised the bar with the introduction of the 1000Z

Stratosphere and over an 8-year period from 1935 to 1942, Zenith would rise from the 12th largest radio manufacturer in the U.S. to number two. The Stratosphere, with its art deco, skyscraper cabinet and airplane interment looking dial, helped set in motion a style that would transform the company in to an industry leader.

Today, the strength of Zenith's design and engineering that dominated the 1930's lives on as Zenith radios are some of the most valuable and most collected radios today for all the same reasons they were a consumer favorite in the 1930's.