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.)
Like a lot of the “Spurious Signals” cartoons, this is based in fact. I did go back to Season 1, Episode 1 of “M*A*S*H” and start watching the show all the way through, and I did try to figure out if Radar’s radio was a real piece of military equipment or just a mock-up built by a studio prop expert.
The debate still isn’t settled. Some folks in online discussions have argued that Radar’s using a 1960s vintage U.S. Navy radio called a “T.E.D.,” but in my opinion, it doesn’t match the photos of those radios, as far as I can tell. I suspect it was just a prop made up to look like 1950s vintage Army equipment.
This is one of the rare occasions when my editor, Rich W2VU, suggested some changes; he felt the wording in the second panel was a bit clunky.
Another cartoon somewhat based in reality. Ever since I was a kid, I did want a Zenith Trans-Oceanic portable radio, but they went out of production when I was very small. By the time I got interested in radio, the remaining Trans-Oceanics were becoming rare and very collectible. Even scruffy examples were selling for hundreds of dollars.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I started looking for one on eBay that I could afford — maybe a fixer-upper. I took a chance on a radio advertised “for parts, not working” for less than $50. To my astonishment, after a thorough disassembly and cleaning, it turned right on and performed beautifully.
So I didn’t get one from Santa Claus, and it wasn’t free, but it was the next-best thing.
The “mountain-top guru” is one of the oldest cliches in American cartooning. I decided to do my own spin on the trope. Why did the guru climb the mountain? He wasn’t seeking enlightenment, he was trying to win a DX contest.
This may be the most popular cartoon I’ve ever done for CQ magazine. It was picked up by several web forums and hobby blogs and went viral for a few days. Some from a U.S. government laboratory emailed me to say it was being widely circulated among the electronics techs there, which blew my mind. It still pops up from time to time.
My wife is blessedly tolerant, but I’ve never really planned one of our vacations around a ham radio event. (I have been known to take a shortwave radio with me to see what I can hear, especially when we’re traveling in a rural part of the country where there’s less electrical interference.)
Lots of people ask me, “I just bought a vintage radio” or guitar amp or record player or hi-fi or whatever, and they want to know if they can just plug it in and turn it on. It depends on your tolerance for fire.
Old-time radios are full of capacitors (sometimes called “condensers”) — components that store a small electrical charge for brief periods of time. Nowadays, they’re made of mylar and synthetic material, but through the ’50s and early ’60s, many of them were made of wax paper. When one of them fails, you’re likely to notice it first with your nose.
If you don’t feel comfortable working on electronics, best to find someone to check out that classic Fender amp or Harmon-Kardon tuner before you plug it and damage it.