HAM Radio 101

Hams You Should Know: Phil Gildersleeve

Born in 1908 in Portland, Connecticut, Amateur Radio cartoonist Phil Gildersleeve helped define the face of Amateur Radio with his role as longtime cartoonist for QST magazine. He worked at the magazine for almost 40 years, bringing interest and humor to the Amateur Radio community.

No humble beginnings here. Gildersleeve descended from a long line of prominent people—of enough significance that an island in Portland even bears his family name. He graduated from Middletown High School and attended prep school for a short time after. He left to join the ranks of the United Fruit Company as a commercial radio operator on the high seas. It was here his interest in Amateur Radio burgeoned as he learned the ins and outs of the new-age mode of Amateur Radio communication—most easily comparable in the 1920s to modern-day computer technologies.

During his employment at the United Fruit Company, Gildersleeve earned his Amateur Radio license and was granted the call sign W1CJD—he would later sign his cartoons as Gil W1CJD. His first submission to QST came in 1929, and he would stay with the publication until just prior to his death in 1966.

According to Dave Newkirk, W9BRD, SK—a former editor of QST and the Ham credited with coining the term “Elmer”—Gildersleeve’s work initially served as a way to fill magazine space. “The editors would feed him a one liner—‘W5 so-and-so is a policeman’—and he’d send back this funny picture of a guy with a Billy club,” Newkirk recalled in this article written by Jim Massara. He contributed more than 1,500 cartoons and additionally worked as editor for the Middletown Press where his cartoons occasionally appeared.

However, Gildersleeve’s illustrations in the cartoon “Jeeves” are what most Hams remember best about the witty illustrator. Silent key and QST columnist Byron Goodman, W1DX, recalls the cartoon: “Jeeves was a balding British butler who was every amateur’s fantasy assistant. Having problems with your antenna tower—during a blizzard? Then send Jeeves up the tower to fix it, of course. Jeeves was terrific, absolutely terrific.”

Gildersleeve’s love of Amateur Radio extended beyond the pages of QST. He built all of his own equipment, became a skillful Morse code operator, and was known by friends of the family as “60-word-a-minute Phil.” He was so immersed in the hobby that he even kept one ear tuned to a nearby radio receiver while illustrating his cartoons.

Gildersleeve passed away from lung cancer in late 1966, with continuing contributions submitted by mail until his death. His cartoons survived another ten years, still appearing in QST and other publications. In 1986, QST publishers released a compilation of Gildersleeve’s best work, and today his illustrations can still be viewed on a QST wall display at the ARRL headquarters.

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