Zenith Model T1816R Television (1955)
People either love or hate the design of this classic 1950s black and white television.
I belong to the "love it" camp. With rounded, futuristic lines and cat's-eye shaped knobs
on either side of the screen, it reminds me of a robot or space alien.
Made in 1955, this large metal-cased TV was designed to sit on a table or
a stand. The cabinet is dark maroon with a contrasting silver bezel and
gold accents in the knobs. The Zenith name appears in raised letters at the top
of the bezel and there is a small gold metal Zenith logo on the control panel at
It has a sixteen-inch screen and seems to weigh about sixteen tons!
I purchased this set for $35 in January, 1998.
As found, the TV was in excellent cosmetic
condition but the electronics obviously needed work.
As with all vintage electronics, this one was not immediately switched on at full power.
Instead, I gradually increased the operating voltage with my
variac, watching for any signs of
Although the screen lit up on the first try, the picture was
unwatchable: either a featureless expanse of snow or a maelstrom of
zigzagging lines. The speaker emitted nothing but static. After a moment,
I discovered that you could tune stations better by rocking and carefully holding
the tuning knob slightly off center—a sign of dirty contacts in the tuner switch.
Before going any farther, I sprayed DeOxit electronic cleaner into
the tuner and worked it vigorously through its entire range. This treatment
usually takes care of any corrosion and built-up dirt on the contacts,
allowing the tuner to operate normally.
Conveniently, the tuner is located near the back of the chassis, where you
can reach it by simply removing the cabinet back. A long extension connects
the tuner to the knobs in front—a design feature that simplifies
When I powered up the TV again, I was pleased to
see that the tuner cleaning had worked. The picture was still a mess of zigazgs, but
I could tell that the tuner was zeroing in on each channel, and now some audio came through.
After some adjustment of the vertical and horizontal hold controls, a
wobbly picture appeared. It was far too short and there was lots of "foldover" at the
top, but a picture is a picture!
The top panel near the rear of the cabinet exposes two additional
adjustments—vertical height and linearity. Using a screwdriver,
I slowly adjusted these controls to bring the picture to the correct height and
eliminate the foldover. The next photo shows the results.
Although watchable, the picture still wasn't ideal. It was too large in both the
horizontal and the vertical dimensions, as I could tell by comparing the picture on a
modern solid-state set in the same room. The sound was also very buzzy at the point
where the picture looked best. To improve the sound, you had to adjust the fine tuning
somewhat "off center" of the station, degrading the video quality.
For a maiden flight, however, this was extremely encouraging. The major systems
were all basically operational. With luck, I might only have to finish cleaning
the controls, replace any paper capacitors, and possibly touch up the alignment.
In the days since buying the TV, I had gotten an original of its
Sams Photofact folder, which includes complete schematics and
technical data. Following instructions in the folder, I carefully
removed this heavy chassis from the cabinet. In case you're wondering,
this is done by placing the TV face-down on a soft surface. I used
a heavy bath towel laid on the couch to cushion the glass picture tube.
After loosening the mounting screws, you then draw the cabinet upward and away
from the chassis. The entire faceplate, including knobs, remains in place.
Before making any replacements, I cleaned the entire chassis
and cabinet inside and out.
Next, I tested all of the tubes.
Only two of them, the 5BK7 RF amplifier and the 6AU8 vertical multiplier, were weak enough to require replacement.
On the whole, this looked like a pretty high-quality television.
Of the radio's 74 capacitors, only 14 were the unreliable paper type.
The rest were either electrolytics or
reliable ceramic units.
Like many tube electronics of the early 1950s, this set used selenium rectifiers
in the power supply, in place of a rectifier tube. I replaced the notoriously
unreliable selenium units with modern silicon diodes. The originals
were disconnected but left in place for aesthetic reasons.
"Recapping" (replacing old capacitors) took a couple of evenings and
involved no special difficulties. Compared to my cramped
1957 RCA 14-S-7070G television, this one
has a fairly roomy chassis.
The following photo shows the chassis after installing fresh capacitors.
The next photo shows the chassis from the rear. Notice the pair of
selenium rectifiers. They are the dark orange finned rectangular objects
near the right bottom.
You should always replace selenium rectifiers in old equipment. They
are not reliable and when they fail, they can give off an awful odor
and even create a fire. The selenium unit can be replaced with a modern
silicon diode (type 1N4007) that costs about $1.00. After the above photo was taken,
I mounted the new diodes right above the old selenium units, leaving
the original recitifers in place (but disconnected) for appearance's sake.
Then I installed the new tubes and tweaked the vertical height and
linearity. The picture looked great, with good sharpness and contrast.
The picture was slightly off kilter, however. I
remedied this condition by carefully manipulating adjustment collars on
the neck of the picture tube.
Caution: the chassis of a tube television under power contains
very high voltage that can give a fatal shock. Don't ever stick your
fingers in there unless you know exactly what you're doing. I am used to
working around tube gear, but I still don't believe
in taking chances. For this job, I made two temporary tools from long dowels with small
non-conductive claws on the ends. The claws were the right size to grip
small ears on the adjustment collars. Using these tools, I could safely reach
into the chassis and rotate the collars without risking a shock.
There is only one more minor problem that I'd like to remedy. The sound is slightly
buzzy when the tuning is centered at the point of best picture. Adjusting the
TV's special "buzz control" alleviated the problem, but I suspect that a few more
tweaks might improve the sound.
Meanwhile, this TV is very watchable. My wife and I have lately been using it
in our bedroom. Our "real" television in that room is a modern color
set connected to a hi-fi sound system. Some times we'll turn on both TVs
to watch a favorite show. This old Zenith has a slightly bigger screen
and frequently it is the one that we prefer to watch.
how little you miss color when watching a good-quality black and white set.
It also seems less subject to "ghosts" than the newer TV. Perhaps the
modern solid-state set is a little too sensitive for its own good!