An appreciation of ‘Car Talk’
An ode to one of my favorite radio shows featuring Tom and Ray Magliozzi aka Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers
I’ve had had my fair share of car troubles from dead starters, to worn out brakes (twice), to flat tires and to dealing with the Sisyphean task of trying to replace an old alternator belt with one I later found out was the wrong size. So it is fairly obvious why I would be drawn to the eponymous National Public Radio show Car Talk, with the freewheeling banter of Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the irrepressibly lovable mechanics from Cambridge, Ma., (which they would pronounce phonetically mah).
If you aren’t familiar with the Peabody Award-winning but now defunct talk show, the two brothers would give out the number (1–888-CAR-TALK) for people who were seeking advice about their cars but more often than the conversation would turn to life, careers, family and a myriad of other subjects.
Their decades long journey on the airwaves began in the late 70s when the brothers were invited to sit on a panel of auto mechanics for a show on WBUR Boston but Tom was the only one to show up, the station liked what they saw and gave the two their own show. In its infancy the show was broadcast locally in the Boston area before going national on NPR being heard by millions nationwide from Guam to Fairbanks to Tuscaloosa.
The brothers possess encyclopedic knowledge of vehicles, all makes and models foreign and domestic, but Tom brought levity to the show, while Ray would steer it back on course. Their humor and silliness belied their automotive expertise and intelligence illustrated by the fact they both graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tom had a doctorate.
But throughout every show the elder brother’s unique laugh defused any outrageous statement he made after ribbing the caller or making fun of their question. Tom’s infectious laugh would get Ray laughing, and listeners couldn’t help but laugh along with them, like they were in on the joke.
The brothers would also test the audiences’ intelligence, during every show they would have a puzzler for listeners to solve, which was a riddle or brain teaser which would require logic and critical thinking skills to figure out.
Listening to the show, it is easy to hear why it would be an NPR staple for 25 years. I tune in (online) to hear the their witty thoughtful personalities shine through the audio waves and if I can learn a little more about cars than I knew before, even better. The show went off the air in 2012 but it possesses a timeless quality, the only way you can possibly tell it wasn’t recorded last week, is due to the make and model of the callers’ vehicles which more often than not came from the 80s and 90s.
Even after the two brothers stopped doing original programs their longtime producer Doug (“the subway fugitive, not a slave to fashion bongo boy”) Berman updated old shows and packaged it as “The Best of Car Talk.” Sadly Tom Magliozzi died in 2014 at 77 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
The relationship the two had mirrors the great relationship I have with my brother but to honor Tom and Ray I’m going to end this article with their signature sign off they ended every show with.
“Don’t drive like my brother.”