A radio that only plays country music...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 1990

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a problem with the digital radio on my 1985 Mazda 626. On occasion it blanks out, I lose the FM stations and it appears to lose all power. When it dies, the tape deck will still play, and I can tune in an AM country station (not my style). The only pattern I can find is that it never happens during your radio program, and I can never get it to occur when I bring the car in for repair. What do you suggest?

RAY: You have several choices. If you're a cheapskate like my brother, you can start by giving it a good whack. He does that to his kids when they blank out. Alternatively, you could buy some snake-skin boots and a 55 gallon hat and try to develop an interest in country music.

TOM: But if you really want a functioning radio in your car, you're going to have to take some more serious action. The fact that the tape deck and AM bands continue to work means that the problem is inside the radio, rather than something simple like just a bad external connection. If it's an expensive radio, have a good car stereo shop remove it and keep it until they can fix the problem. Ask them to give you a loaner while they have yours.

RAY: If it's a cheap radio, however, you may find that the labor cost involved in trying to fix it nearly equals the cost of buying a new one. Cheap radios are like those calculator/word-processor/shower massage wrist watches. When one breaks, it's cheaper to just throw it out and get another one for $15.

TOM: If you do get a new radio, Nicole, get the simplest to operate, best sounding radio you can find. We consumers have to protest against the ridiculous proliferation of stupid little buttons. Most car radios these days perform too many functions--each one controlled by its own pin-head-sized button. Not only are most of these buttons unnecessary, but they make driving dangerous.

RAY: Haven't you seen the guys who try to operate their car sound systems while driving at 60 mph? All you see is an empty passenger compartment with a little hand sticking up holding the wheel. That's because they've got the radio owner's manual in the other hand, and their face pressed again the dashboard down between the seats so they can tell the buttons apart.

TOM: It's a case of manufacturers giving us technology simply because it's available. What they ought to do is use their technology and their expertise to "tune" the systems for individual cars. Set the acoustics at the factory or upon installation, and leave the basic controls to us. If we had our way, Nicole, you'd be able to operate your next car radio with your winter gloves on.

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