Tom Magliozzi, a co-host of Car Talk, died earlier this week. I have not listened to the show in more than a decade, other than in passing; the show itself stopped new broadcasts since 2012. The morning after he passed away, WBUR (where it all began) had a long remembrance during its morning show. I laughed all the while with a lump in my throat. Then the floodgates opened.
I can recall the one long period of my life when I listened to Car Talk religiously, I think it was Sunday evenings. I would usually be driving back to the Cape from friends North of Boston. Sometimes, I would even turn on the radio at home. It was somewhat of a dark point in my life and Car Talk was an extremely pleasant refuge. I always knew the show was popular but only now do I realize that I was not the only lost soul who looked to the show for such relief. The connection that hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, made with the disembodied voices on the radio was phenomenal – here is what a fan said recently: “These guys could have been reading the phone book and I'd still tune in. It's a tribute to them, especially because I am really not that interested in vehicle repair. But the show was so much more than that. He gave me so much to laugh about!”
In a world of self-promotion and endless marketing, the Tappet Brothers were a refreshing contrast. They made fun of everyone, most of all themselves and took great delight in poking fun at their own success. I heard Tom recount that they started the show on a volunteer basis and eventually decided to ask WBUR for $50/week (a request that was immediately sanctioned). The brothers then looked at each other and said “Boy, we are in Fat City”. At this point, Tom dissolves into helpless laughter and he can’t even finish the story. On the show, many thoughts and anecdotes used to be left similarly suspended, overcome by what was the textbook example of infectious laughter. Even the dourest listener had no choice but to grin from ear to ear. Just by being, Tom (and Ray) delivered public radio from a stodginess that was a standing target of SNL skits and enhanced the popularity of radio in an era of strong competing influences. “Even though members of the Emily Dickinson Fan club smother the radio with their copy of Hope is a Thing with Feathers every time they hear us say it, this is NPR”. (Paraphrasing here, I don’t remember any specific sign-off but there are hundreds).
Farewell Tom Magliozzi. I hope you re-incarnate soon since the void left by the likes of you needs to be filled quickly.