1940s Portable Radio Is A Suitcase

The meaning of the word portable has changed a bit over the years. These days something has to be pretty tiny to be considered truly portable, but in the 1940s, anything with a handle on it that you could lift with one hand might be counted as portable electronics. Zenith made a line of portable radios that were similar to their famous Transoceanic line but smaller, lighter, and only receiving AM to reduce their size and weight compared to their big brothers. If you want to see what passed for portable in those days, have a look at [Jeff Tranter’s] video (below) of a 6G601 — or maybe it is a GG601 as it says on the video page. But we think it is really a 6G601 which is a proper Zenith model number.

According to [Jeff], 225,350 of these radios were made, and you can see that it closes up like a suitcase. The initial 6 in the model number indicates there are 6 tubes and the G tells you that it can run with AC or batteries.

We love the name and appearance of the built-in antenna: wavemagnet. Marketing types existed back in the 1940s, too. You can remove the antenna and use built-in suction cups to affix it to a window. This is a great idea and one we wish more portable radios had.

The radio does have some asbestos in it, so that’s a concern if you want to rebuild one of these. [Jeff] says if it isn’t flaking apart you should be ok, but he wore a mask while dusting the case out, anyway.

The tube used modern (for the time) loctal tubes that used 1.5V filaments that were easy on batteries. No printed circuit board here, hand wiring was the order of the day. The radio sounds great, and the back part of the video talks about what he had to do to restore the radio to its current glory.

There’s not much good on AM anymore unless, of course, you put it there. We’ve also written about restoring old radios if you want more on that topic.


12 thoughts on “1940s Portable Radio Is A Suitcase

  1. My aunt gave me a portable tube radio to fix.
    This was in the early 1970’s. The radio was much older than that.
    I never did get it going, It had a huge battery that supply the B+ as well as another voltage (probably dead, and rare)
    Maybe the biggest hurdle was the difficulty of finding an 0Z4 rectifier tube that it needed.

  2. I have one of those old Zenith radios kicking around here someplace. I am trying to recall if that one or one of the other ones I have came with the “Wave Magnet” antenna. I am not sure what the hack here is though. Lots of people have lots of old radios.

  3. Jeff has this radio selling $34.95 in 1940, then goes on to assert that’s the equivalent of over two thousand dollars today. I had to pause the video and do a quick search. Three random inflation calculators I found on the web each adjusted this figure closer to a modern day $640.00. YMMV.

  4. By the mid 60’s I was through playing with those battery tube sets. Loctal tubes weren’t common then. Most of all when I saw one that worked it wasn’t very loud at all, even plugged in. The tubes must be fragile too with such low power heaters. Don’t forget that crazy resistor in the toxic power cord. Though it was convenient to stow the cord in the back rather than lose it, it was fragile as heck with a single strand resistor wire as the way to ballast the tube heaters when plugged in. The AC/DC switch was not simple.

    Wave magnet was a trade name for the ferrite rod antenna developed during WW2. They were more compact than those racetrack shaped flat vertical loop antennae. Detachable meant that you could put it on the window of a train or car surrounded by metal and get reception. When AM was king.

  5. Sometime in the’70s the husband one of mt mom’s cousin gave me portable radio he had while aerving in the military in the ’50s. While I recall the make, it certainly wasn’t I Zenith. or I wouldn’t have last it when I became disabled, and couldn’t no longer work w for the company that owned the shop/ warehouse, where I was using the radio on a regular basis The radio operated on household current, or batteries, never did construct battery packs for it. In addition to the conentioal AM band it was able to use some shortwave band. I recall before transistor radios came along some of my older cousins had battery power portable radios that used tubes. Any way why care, if this not a hack?

  6. Interesting programming on AM radio is not nearly as common as it used to be, but you can find it if you look for it. It’s not all sports, right wing talk, or religious programming.

    Often you can find odd music formats or interviews about unusual subjects that you wouldn’t find on the homogenized programming formats that infest the FM or satellite bands. And don’t overlook what happens to the MW band at night. Many new stations emerge from the noise.

    There is a certain romance to discovering forgotten music. And the ambiance of the background noises and the sound of far-away signals adds to the experience. It’s even more fun when you’re on the road late at night, or camping in a very rural area.

    Yes, I know, you can hear all this and more, just from fooling around with various Internet stations and video web sites. But where’s the fun in that? This is an act of discovery, not a search for something specific.

  7. Yes. It’s amazing how much more propagation there is at night. During the day I can catch maximum 10 clear signals on AM. At night I can catch stations up to 1000 km away, even on simple direct receiver. Like Philadelphia from Ontario, very clearly.

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