Zenith Model S-829 "Basket Case" Restoration


Aquisition - In late 2009, I received a call from a woman about 30 miles away who had a "bunch of radios from my husband who recently passed away." I went to see the "collection" and was immediately disappointed. As I walked down to the wet basement, I could smell the heavy odor of mildew. There were 20-30 radios, some test equipment and a few boxes of tubes. They looked as if they were dumped there by a front-end loader. The items were common, in awful shape and smelled.

I did spot one gem, however: a Zenith S-829 tombstone radio. Its condition was poor - the veneer was delaminated and partially missing, the chrome grille was pitted, and 3 of the 4 knobs were missing. The back of the radio provided somewhat better news - the radio looked complete electronically - the original speaker and transformer were intact, the hard-to-find original grille cloth was there and the chassis, while filthy, looked complete. I knew chrome-front radios were very desirable, but I also knew this radio needed a ton of work to make it presentable. I made what I thought was a fair offer and the radio was mine.

False Start - It was clear that the cabinet was the major part of this project. I have restored and refinished many wood radios and I thought I was up to the task. I began to remove the damaged veneer from the radio and realized I was in over my head. I would neeed parts of the cabinet reproduced, requiring more woodworking equipment than I had.

Lowell's Magic - I had seen what DVHRC member Lowell Schultz had done with other "distressed" cabinets and asked him to take on the job. As I joked in our club's newsletter, Lowell, in a moment of temporary insanity, accepted the task. After receiving the cabinet in parts, he placed them in a wicker basket and pronounced it a "basket case". Undeterred, he spent just 1 1/2 months to work his magic, including fabricating parts of the cabinet, finding appropriate veneer, complete reconstruction, sanding and wood filling, matching the original color scheme and multiple coats of clear lacquer.

Electronic Restoration - I cleaned the rusted chassis and painted it with Rustoleum Silver paint, which I dulled with rottenstone so it didn't look too new. I replaced all filter and paper capacitors, replaced resistors out of spec, replaced the line cord and cleaned the controls. I had just one problem where I mis-wired a resistor. Once corrected, the radio played quite well with a test speaker.

More Professional Help - Two other tasks were out of my league. First, the grille needed to be re-chromed. DVHRC member Chuck Azzalina had used a company in Harrisburg, PA for chrome work with excellent results. Some time and some money took care of that aspect. Second, the speaker needed to be re-coned and the output transformer replaced. I contacted well-known speaker repairman Hank Brazeal. Again, some time and money later, I had a functional speaker.

Reproducing Knobs - The knobs are wood, painted gloss black with a chrome insert. The bad news was that three of the four knobs were missing and original replacements are almost impossible to find. The good news was that the one left was in good shape and could be used to make reproductions. While quality reproductions are available from Renovated Radios, I decided to reproduce them myself.

I ordered a kit from Micro-Mark which gives you all that is needed to make reproductions of any small item. Basically a rubber mold is created using the original knob as a pattern. When cured, the originaL is removed and a two-part-resin is poured in the mold. Once hardened an exact duplicate is created.

The hardest part was reproducing the chrome ring. I tried a number of methods: 1). I looked for matching metal washers at the hardware store (no exact matches - strike one). 2). I tried tapping solder into the groove and planned to polish later (just didn't work - strike two). 3). I tried filling the groove with silver paint (just didn't look right - strike three). Finally, I used silver sculpey clay to full the groove. This resulted in an acceptable look.

The End Result - After many hours of my own time, some standard replacements parts, and fair amount of money for outside help, I ended up with a radio that is the prize of my collection. See before and after pictures here.

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