Let’s get one thing out of the way in which up entrance: Ray Magliozzi hates automobiles. And never in a my-car-is-a-pain-in-the-ass-and-it’s-always-breaking form of manner (although there’s a few of that too), however in a they’re-killing-the-planet form of manner. “How could you not?” Ray instructed me earlier this yr. “They’re ruining the fabric of our lives.”

Ray says this as whether it is the obvious factor on the planet. And it principally is, in fact, but it surely’s nonetheless humorous to listen to him say it, as a result of for 35 years he co-hosted considered one of NPR’s most-listened to exhibits of all time, Automotive Speak. Ray additionally owned a restore store in Cambridge, spending a superb chunk of his days fixing automobiles.

Ray’s life has been dedicated to automobiles, even when the yuks on the radio had been skinny veils for a way Ray and his brother and co-host Tom Magliozzi truly thought, which was much less like your native mechanic and extra like an engineer. Each Ray and Tom studied engineering at M.I.T., and after all of the laughs throughout every name, the engineer inside them would normally emerge. Your check-engine mild is on due to a leak in your EVAP system, Ray may advise. A few seconds later it could be on to the following caller.

Automotive Speak had a soothingly predictable high quality to it. To start with, there can be corny jokes, then some callers, then a weekly brainteaser referred to as the Puzzler, after which some extra callers, and, earlier than you knew it, it was over. They did this, brilliantly and seemingly effortlessly, for many years, reaching over 4 million listeners at their peak. It had a surprisingly huge enchantment; non-car fans, and definitely non-car individuals, will typically gush about how a lot they beloved the present.

All good issues should come to an finish, although. And Automotive Speak’s finish got here within the fall of 2012. Tom handed away on the age of 77 two years later. Within the intervening years, new weekly exhibits have been posted on-line and nonetheless run on some NPR stations, however these exhibits are made up of repurposed content material. Automotive Speak continues to be round, however you’d be forgiven in case you hadn’t considered it a lot. NPR stated they deliberate to cease airing The Better of Automotive Speak in 2017, however new episodes of the present are nonetheless put out as podcasts and air on 80 broadcast stations, distributed by NPR. Ray additionally nonetheless writes his syndicated column each week, as Automotive Speak’s lengthy goodbye continues.

“We have eight listeners now,” Ray says, earlier than a producer, David Greene, jumps in to say it’s truly gone down to 6.

Extra critically, Greene says, “NPR [tracks the numbers] but I don’t pay any attention to that.”

“We do it because it’s fun,” Ray says.

The numbers hardly matter in any actual sense. Automotive Speak made its level and have become a nationwide establishment a very long time in the past. No matter’s left is gravy.

The present’s most frequent listener as of late may actually be Ray himself. He stated he nonetheless listens to the present “all the time,” principally to listen to his brother’s voice and remind himself about instances they’d collectively. To remind himself of the jokes they shared. To remind himself of the great instances.

“I love to hear his laugh, and I love to hear his take on things,” Ray stated. “It’s a rare opportunity that I’ve had to still communicate with my brother that most people don’t get.”

When I went to WBUR’s studios to speak to Ray, time stood nonetheless for a second. Ray, seated within the studio, was recording sponsorship messages for the most recent episodes, his voice unmistakeable.

He sounded the identical as he did when I first began listening to Automotive Speak within the mid-’90s as a tween. The present was appointment radio. It was dependable, for one factor. You possibly can be irritated by all of the laughs, however you additionally couldn’t deny that Ray and Tom had some severe information about automobiles, and in a manner that you just couldn’t actually faux. The jokes had been principally corny, however the shtick as an entire was endearing. All of it was 10,000 % extra listenable than most different NPR exhibits.

Even so, it was exhausting to fairly know what you had been listening to. What was with their aliases Click on and Clack? Did they actually each go to M.I.T.? Earlier than the web it was exhausting to get solutions to such questions, except you actually went looking. It was by no means well worth the effort, although, and, in addition to, the aura enhanced the present.

“A lot of people ask [to talk to Ray],” a supervisor on the Good Information Storage in Cambridge—which Ray owned earlier than passing off possession to a pal—instructed me. “We still get calls.”

However not a whole lot of these calls are handed on. Not a whole lot of the still-considerable quantity of listener suggestions now will get handed on, both, since Ray conjures up a protectionist intuition within the individuals who know him. When I met him I understood why. Ray is as pure as they arrive. We spoke for round 45 minutes, although it might’ve gone on for hours, as sitting round and bullshitting was as pure to him as respiratory. However Ray was “tired,” on the finish of our chat. Which appeared about proper.

He and Tom had been good for radio.

“It’s hardly been heavy lifting, you know,” Ray instructed me. “I sat here and Tom sat there, and we just talked to each other and talked to whoever was on the other end without any awareness that there were millions of people listening.”

Tom was Ray’s idol from an early age, and that was impressed partly by Tom’s expansive character and behavior of dragging Ray alongside on journeys along with his buddies.

“[Tom would] be going to a beach party with his buddies. ‘Can I take my little brother along?’ He was 17 and I was five! Who does that? Nobody does that!” Ray stated.

Tom additionally made Ray assume he might make it at M.I.T.

“It was hard [getting in to M.I.T.] and it was hard staying in. I didn’t realize that some of my contemporaries who went to other colleges had a lot of fun,” Ray stated. “M.I.T. has a manner of grinding you down. The way in which they do it’s, you already know, while you grew up in highschool, you’re the child that will get the most effective grades. When you had an examination you’d get 100 in it on a regular basis. And you then go to M.I.T. and in case you’re fortunate, you’re common. When you’re fortunate.

He added: “I would say about 10 % of the individuals truly belonged there. They’d the educational credentials, the acumen to be there. [Tom and I] had been within the backside a part of the opposite 90 %. We had been there to maintain these guys firm. In any other case they’d really feel lonely. You’re going to have an equations class with three individuals in it? No.”

Ray, like his brother, studied engineering, however by the point he left had soured on the concept of ever truly turning into one.

“The good thing about it was I discovered I didn’t want to be an engineer. I thought about 30 or 40 year career as engineer, designing windshield wiper links for Chrysler,” Ray stated. “I thought, ‘Nah, I’ll just shoot myself now.’”

Photograph: AP

As an alternative, Ray tooled round after commencement, at first accepting a instructing job in Vermont.

“I didn’t find Vermont as friendly,” Ray stated. “Winter was interminable. Spring sucked. There was a very long mud season, followed by a protracted fly season, and then there was summer. It was tough… I had trouble making friends.”

So he returned to Massachusetts. Tom was nonetheless round, for one factor.

“He was constantly trying to lure me back,” Ray stated.

“By the way, I should mention that hardly anyone knows how to turn an odometer forward,” Ray instructed a caller named Rick, whose girlfriend’s automobile had just lately come again from the store with 20,000 extra miles on it than when it was dropped off. “There are plenty of people who can turn it backward, but forward is a lost art.”

“The whole thing’s gone screw-y,” Rick stated, explaining that the rise in mileage on the odometer was accelerating.

“She needs a speedometer head,” Ray says, including {that a} supplier might put the proper mileage on it, although there have been different choices. “I don’t know what the rules are in Connecticut, but if you’re in New Jersey or some place like that…”

Tom interjects to complete his sentence.

“…you can put anything on it! You can get it done in the supermarket parking lot!”

“Would you consider making a trip to New Jersey?” Ray says.

“It’s not that far,” Tom says.

“It’s only about 20,000 miles for you,” Ray says.

Ray and Tom began Hackers Haven in 1973 in Cambridge, a enterprise which finally became the Good Information Storage, which nonetheless exists. Ray was a daily for many years. The early years of the store had been rough-and-tumble.

Ray and Tom first owned Hackers Haven with one other man, however that relationship broke down after someday, and someday that different man introduced some canines to the store and ordered everyone out. When a pal of Ray’s who was dwelling there got here to retrieve some college supplies, he wrapped his arms with towels—“so he looks like the Michelin man,” Ray stated. That and he carried a baseball bat for defense in opposition to the canines, efficiently getting his stuff. That pal, Ray stated, later went on to turn out to be a rocket scientist of some reputation.

Different prospects again then included the astronaut John M. Grunsfeld, who additionally later went on Automotive Speak as a caller from house.

“Around 1977, I used to have this green Sunbeam Alpine,” Grunsfeld as soon as stated, “and I would pay a few bucks an hour and some folks would help me fix it. I think they sound kind of familiar.”

Automotive Speak began in Boston in 1977 on native radio. Ray and Tom would additionally do segments on NPR’s All Issues Thought-about. Later, Susan Stamberg, a number of All Issues Thought-about, helped persuade NPR execs to allow them to do their very own present.

From The New York Occasions’ obituary for Tom in 2014:

Ms. Stamberg recalled how exhausting it had been to promote NPR executives on the concept of constructing a radio program round two mechanics speaking about automobiles. However automobiles, she stated, had been inappropriate: “What I loved was the relationship between them.”

Early on she would point out the storage as a part of their introduction till they instructed her, “Stop using the name, we can’t handle the traffic,” Ms. Stamberg stated.

Ray and Tom at an M.I.T. commencement ceremony in 1999.
Photograph: AP

The primary Automotive Speak to air nationally was broadcast on Halloween in 1987. Tom and Ray began off tentatively, and you may sense some nervousness of their voice. However what they didn’t know was that callers had been screened by producers. Calls instantly poured in.

The present’s producers finally honed a format during which callers would message on an automated service, and on the peak some 2,000 referred to as in weekly. The very best of them would get callbacks, and a name from a producer and be placed on the air with Ray and Tom.

The callers can be in an order that makes them totally different sufficient from one another. Tipping off Tom and Ray to what issues the listeners have—one thing which didn’t happen—was unwelcome. As Tom as soon as stated, in the event that they knew the issues upfront they must do analysis on them, which constituted work.

However they’d assist, as The Boston Globe reported in 2005. Throughout calls Doug Berman, their longtime producer, would feed them info by means of a headset in regards to the automobile in query. That explains why in lots of calls there was a noticeable lag between the caller’s query, the yukking, and, on the finish, the reply.

You may name this dishonest, if not for the variety of instances Tom and Ray nonetheless obtained it incorrect. No matter info they obtained didn’t at all times assist that a lot. It additionally, in its personal manner, mirrored the spirit of Tom and Ray. Their strategy to automobile restore was intensely collaborative, one thing that isn’t widespread in an trade that rewards mechanics totally on how nicely they invoice probably the most repairs, wanted or not.

“They’re just machines,” Ray instructed The New York Occasions in 1988, after just lately buying 1987 Dodge pickup. “This is not brain surgery. It falls apart, you get another one.”

All this time, Automotive Speak constructed an enormous viewers. Ray and Tom had a imprecise sense of this, however tried their finest to remain oblivious.

“When we were sitting here, just us and [producer David Greene] and [producer Doug Berman] and the engineer it never came into my mind like, ‘Oh, I better do my best possible job because there are four or five million people listening,’ Ray says. “We tried to do our best anyway in whatever that was. We never went out of our way to try to be funny. We never went out of our way to try to give the right answer necessarily although we did try, but we didn’t go to extreme measures.”

“I got a stuck dipstick, honey,” one caller opened with within the early ’90s. “I’m not kidding I have put some big homeboys with Vise-Grips on this thing. It won’t budge.”

“And it won’t come out, eh?” Tom asks.

“If you want to see a man ruffle his chest up and poke it out just say, ‘Oh, my dipstick is stuck.’ Here they come,” the caller says.

Ray’s recommendation was to chop off the highest of the dipstick with a hacksaw and “shove it in,” reasoning that you just didn’t want it anyway.

Tom’s accent was mainly unalloyed, however Ray instructed the Boston Globe a number of years in the past that he made an effort to pronounce his Rs for the good thing about everybody not dwelling within the larger New England space. That allowance match the sample of their relationship—Tom tended to be extra direct with listeners, normally strolling a captivating line between cheerful and impolite, whereas Ray was the extra useful one, the one who truly spent time within the store, the one who might resolve issues.

“Somebody has to know the answers, and it wasn’t going to be my brother,” Ray stated.

Ray has pushed principally common automobiles all through his life, together with a whole lot of American automobiles however loads of Japanese automobiles as nicely. He at the moment drives a 2007 Honda CR-V given to him by his daughter-in-law. Earlier than that, he had a Pontiac station wagon, a Chevy Malibu, and a Ford LTD.

“My first car was a ‘62 Chevy Impala, 120,000 miles,” Ray stated. “Which was unheard of back then… I remember running out of oil a bunch of times. It burned about as much oil as it did gas.”

Ray has little nostalgia for that period of vehicle, saying that he would take a contemporary Nissan Versa over any automobile constructed within the ‘60s or ‘70s, due to trendy requirements of reliability and security.

“Every year [in the ‘80s] they were making big strides,” Ray says. “Things got quieter, stingier with gas.”

Ray and Tom in 2008.
Photograph: AP

In 2015, the Boston Globe took pains to catalogue the Magliozzis’ prodigious insults—all G-rated, in fact. (In individual, I tried a number of instances to bait Ray into cursing, and I assume it labored as soon as. The person merely has no use for curse phrases.)

Additionally within the “bad driver” class are quite a lot of putdowns targeted extra particularly on both the falling-apart car or some specific unhealthy selections by its operator. Stamper famous the Magliozzi brothers’ frequent utilization of “idiot light” for dashboard panel warnings. Additionally they appear to have invented the time period “black tape solution” for what to do, no less than perhaps in case you’re a jamoke, when the fool mild is flashing — i.e., cowl it with black tape.

The Merriam-Webster quotation recordsdata additionally characteristic Magliozzi quotes hooked up to quite a lot of “babe magnet” antonyms: “heap,” “clunker,” “junker,” and “rust bucket.”

Mechanics, attorneys, and pushy husbands obtained some much less affectionate insults: “sleazeball,” for example (“We did use ‘sleazeball’ quite a bit, especially referring to unscrupulous repair shop owners,” Ray stated) or Tom’s fake-Latin model, “Myxomycetes Spheroid,” which means “slime ball.” “Mechanic’s shrug” is a traditional “Car Talk” time period for the know-nothing shuffle carried out in response to query after query.

Another Automotive Speak phrases and phrases The Boston Globe recognized: “dope slap,” or a fast, corrective slap to the again of the top in punishment of stupidity; “urgent haircut,” or the necessity to relieve oneself; “T.S., Eliot,” or a public-radio pleasant manner of claiming “tough shit”; “schnerdling,” a phrase with Icelandic origins to imply bathroom; and “boat payment,” a unit of measurement arising from Ray’s discovery that the least scrupulous mechanics he knew all owned boats.

“I have kind of a capricious problem with my 1988 Volvo wagon that I bought from my ex-husband’s wife,” Penny tells Ray and Tom, although they initially missed the final element.

“When I got the car from her,” Penny says after a second.

“Who’s ‘her’?” Tom asks.

“Oh, I got the car from my ex-husband’s wife, his current wife,” Penny says. “I trusted it because she had all the records. I took a friend over. I met her. She seemed, she seemed like a nice person. I mean, after all. And I talk to my ex-husband regularly. He likes her. So I trusted it.”

“He liked you once too,” Tom says.

“Now mind you, he’s an attorney,” Penny says.

Penny then laid out a sophisticated story involving the Volvo sometimes overheating, and the brothers each agreed there was most likely a blockage in her radiator, and to get the thermostat changed.

When the brothers received a Peabody Award in 1992—“Perhaps more appropriately named ‘Zen and the Art of Automobile Maintenance,’ this entertaining and informative show takes us simultaneously under the hood and into the mind of its vast listening audience,” the award quotation reads—they went to the Waldorf-Astoria in New York to simply accept it.

“You like us! You like us!” Ray says to start with, an allusion to Sally Subject’s Oscars speech from eight years prior.

“You know, we’re just a couple of jamokes,” Tom says.

A jamoke in Ray and Tom’s formulation is a bozo—not meant to offend, because it’s attainable {that a} jamoke has no thought what they’re doing incorrect. Somebody who insists, for instance, you idle your automobile for a half hour in winter time earlier than driving—to correctly heat up the engine or no matter—is a jamoke, since their recommendation is baseless however not dangerous, precisely.

“They know that probably,” Ray stated.

“They know that and we know nothing about radio,” Tom stated on the Peabody ceremony, taking on. “In fact, you know, we got really excited and now it’s kind of a disappointment because when our producer Doug Berman called he said we won a Peabody Award. I thought he said the auto body award. It’s Peabody! Who’s Peabody?”

Ray interjects.

“I was hoping there’s be a large cash prize. I’m disappointed but I guess my brother’s brain augmentation operation will have to wait. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.”

Ray and Tom turned down an untold variety of endorsement presents through the years, reasoning that wealth was ineffective after a sure level. Tom, particularly. Per The New York Occasions:

He was the primary in his household to attend faculty, NPR reported, incomes a level in economics, politics and engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Know-how in 1958. His brother graduated from M.I.T. in 1972.


He described the incident in 1999, when the brothers shared a graduation speech at their alma mater. Tom described driving on Route 128 to his job in Foxboro, Mass., in just a little MG that “weighed about 50 pounds” when a semi-truck reduce him off. Afterward, he considered how pathetic it could have been if he had died having “spent all my life, that I can remember at least, going to this job, living a life of quiet desperation.”

“So I pulled up into the parking lot, walked to my boss’s office and quit on the spot.”

The factor in regards to the Puzzler, the phase that was continuously not car-related however typically a plain brain-teaser, was that it began it as a ploy to get extra enterprise to their store. The present wasn’t nationwide within the late ’70s, and WBUR wouldn’t allow them to point out their store on air. So a helpful workaround was having a characteristic that gave out the deal with of the store for listeners to ship solutions into, however with out naming it.

“We took the gig even though it didn’t pay us because we thought it would be good for business at the garage but they wouldn’t let us do that, the bastards!” Ray stated. “Pretty soon people made the connection.”

Photograph: AP

The present itself shortly created awkward eventualities although, during which individuals would drive their beaters from lengthy distances, anticipating the Automotive Speak guys to do their factor. It didn’t at all times pan out. Some had been starstruck.

“One particular guy came down from the far reaches of Maine near the Canadian border,” Ray stated. “I didn’t even know they have radios up there. And he had listened to the show—this is when we were on nationally—for a number of years and he had some oddball problem where the car would cut out periodically without any warning. He had taken it to everyone within about a 100-mile radius. So he decided, I’m going to make the trek. So he gets a room at the Hotel 7 or whatever, drives himself down here and we had the car for a day or so, and I’m not sure we figured it out for him, but he was—I don’t know exactly what the right word is—jittery when he left. He backed his car out of the garage—he was attempting to back his car out of the garage—and crashed into the wall.”

The worst a part of life is saying goodbye. Goodbye to individuals you’re keen on. Goodbye to individuals you’ve gotten beloved. Goodbye to your loved ones. My very own brother continues to be alive, however we haven’t spoken in years. We by no means stated goodbye, however we’d as nicely have. Most goodbyes are like that. Issues hardly ever simply cease. Issues principally drift.

Till the lengthy goodbye comes. When that occurs, you’re by no means prepared. When that occurs, it occurs very, in a short time, after which, virtually as shortly, the second is gone. You adapt. It was simply yesterday we had been joking round, like we used to do, you assume. Now, you’re gone.

Ray is aware of this. It was simply yesterday that him and Tom had been within the studio yukking it up. It was simply yesterday once they opened their store. It was simply yesterday when Ray was a baby and Tom was in faculty, taking Ray locations. It was simply yesterday when Tom was nonetheless alive.

“I’m sad that my brother’s gone, obviously, but we had a great, great, great time together,” Ray stated. “I say that with none equivocation. Even after we weren’t [in the studio], we had been collectively on a regular basis. We did stuff and we had 1,000,000 laughs, and nothing was extra enjoyable than sitting on the dinner desk with our people and children. It was nice! Most individuals don’t have that of their lives. We simply had a wonderful time. Do I really feel cheated? I don’t. There have been many, many, a few years. And what I have is trying again on all these nice Christmases, birthday events, and yard barbecues, and all these sorts of issues that we did collectively that had been simply a lot enjoyable.

“And all of the silly stuff,” Ray stated.

(Replace, 5:42 p.m.: A Automotive Speak producer emailed to guarantee listeners that The Better of Automotive Speak continues to be distributed by NPR to some 80 stations, after many stations expressed curiosity in persevering with the present following the earlier announcement. I’ve up to date the put up.)


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