I suppose the fact that my real name isn’t “Jay Thurber” isn’t a surprise to a lot of folks. I picked the DJ name more than 20 years ago as a tribute to my favorite writer and cartoonist, and it just kind of “stuck.” But I use my real name everywhere else (including the talk show I produce for WEDO and WZUM), and on the cartoons I draw each month for CQ Amateur Radio Magazine.
I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a crayon, and took some summer art classes in high school, but I’m more or less untrained, and it sometimes shows. I didn’t learn how to use a lightbox until very recently, and I stuck to an old-fashioned metal pin and inkwell for much too long. I still haven’t learned to use a digital tablet and stylus.
I did editorial cartoons for the college paper, as well as a weekly comic strip, but after graduation, I more or less went back into the art closet, so to speak, for about 10 years, rarely drawing anything. (For a short time in the 2000s, I was freelancing editorial cartoons for a small chain of weekly papers in New England, but the editor who was buying them had … shall we say … a difference of opinion with the owners, so that ended that.)
I’m also an electronics and radio buff, and I’ve had my amateur radio license for more than 20 years. In about 2007, Popular Communications magazine put out a request for someone to replace their longtime cartoonist, who was stepping down, and I put together some samples and sent them to the editor, Harold Ort. Harold liked them and hired me.
Well, I outlasted Harold, his two replacements as editor, and Pop’Comm magazine itself. When that magazine closed in 2013, contributors were absorbed into the publisher’s flagship title, CQ, and I’ve been there ever since.
From time to time, I’ve also been invited to contribute other illustrations, including this cover for the July 2019 issue, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. There’s a sub-niche of ham radio called “moonbounce” in which operators literally try to reflect radio frequencies off of the moon and receive them back on Earth. We wondered: In 2069, will hams be on the moon and trying to bounce signals off of the Earth?
Anyway, I’ve decided to start posting my ham radio cartoons here, instead of at a separate website, which I rarely updated or maintained.
A lot of these cartoons assume the viewer is familiar with ham radio terminology like “digital signal processing” or “software-defined radios” or “DX” or “QRP,” so they may or may not make sense.
But because CQ also appeals to a general audience of electronics hobbyists, I also do cartoons on general topics from time to time.
Why does the main character look like me? Well, I thought if I made the main character into a nerdy, bald white guy with glasses, no one could be offended.
Why is it called “Spurious Signals”? That’s an electronics term meaning unwanted radio transmissions, often caused by malfunctioning or poorly designed transmitters or antennas.
Sometimes the cartoons have a Pittsburgh flavor. When KDKA celebrated its 100th anniversary in November 2020, I was able to get a full page in CQ to tell a “Classics Illustrated” style comic strip about its origins:
I also did a cartoon depicting an incident that supposedly happened on Christmas Eve 1906, when Reginald Fessenden, a professor from what is now the University of Pittsburgh, broadcast music over the radio for the first time, to entertain ships at sea. Until then, only the dots-and-dashes of the telegraph had been heard:
(By the way, there is some controversy over whether Fessenden really did make the famed Christmas Eve broadcast. It wasn’t documented until many years later.)
Anyway, I’ll be posting cartoons on a more or less monthly basis, but because I want them to be remain exclusive to the magazine, you’ll be getting them up to a year late. You can buy a digital or print subscription at the website.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy looking through some of my Spurious Signals cartoons. These are copyrighted, so please don’t re-use them, alter them or sell them without my express permission. (I do regularly give ham clubs and other non-profits permission to use them, and I also take commissions.)
See more Spurious Signals cartoons