When Tom Magliozzi died earlier this month it was not the end of Car Talk. Car Talk hasn’t made original shows for some time now. Instead they have been repurposing their best bits for their adoring public. And why not? (The show is infinitely listenable, so let’s keep listening.) When Tom died it was the end of public radio’s single greatest on-air partnership, the two best voices ever to light up the dial together.
I’m from Detroit. I care deeply about cars, but I don’t give a fig about any individual car. It’s the metaphor I love — transport, propulsion. And, of course, the industry accounted for the civilized benefits of my home town. So while I’m all about the history of GM, don’t talk to be about how to change my oil. Thus, I was not Car Talk’s core listener. At least not on paper. In truth I loved that show. I loved it for the same reason YOU loved it, because it was/is absolutely authentic. Yes, Ray and Tom knew about cars, but what they knew even better was about people, how to make us talk, and how to make us laugh. They were brilliant straight men, setting each other up to deliver the punchline, and, even better, setting their listeners up to deliver the punchline.
If you were on their show you sounded likable and dear, regardless. They lifted up every odd question, each bad imitation of a mysterious noise, one disagreement between parents and kids or spouses after another. . .they even gave BMW drivers the benefit of the doubt. You didn’t have to know what a car was to enjoy their show, you just had to want to hear the best in people.
But that’s not the real reason why I listened or why I’ll miss the show when it does, eventually disappear. It’s the brotherhood that I loved. Tom and Ray were close. They finished each other’s sentences, teased each other, moved each other, partnered up and squared off as the situation demanded. But mostly what they did was revel in the opportunity to hang out together. And you could hear it in their voices. So what about smiles and expressions. . .you didn’t have to see them lock eyes or throw their arms around each other’s shoulders to understand how bonded they were, and how making a show together was not just the greatest job EVER, it made for a perfect career.
I can’t imagine how bereft Ray must be, how lonely. . .a lifetime in stereo, and now. . . .mono.