Our Saddest NPR Moment: The Retirement of the Magliozzi Brothers of Car Talk Fame
Editor's Note: In the late '90s, we called Car Talk for Time Magazine's Notebook section to ask Tom and Ray which 'retired' car would they like to see revived. Their producer, Dougie Berman, asked and they replied. But Car Talk was a fixture of our lives, an eagerly-looked- forward-to bright spot on the Saturday morning routine. It still is — but in edited past versions.
But here's a look back at Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers, and we recommend the NPR Car Talk site — for answers to your automotive questions, that is, if a new administration doesn't apply the budget-cutting ax to CPB. Keep listening to NPR's most popular hour-length program and support the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The History of Car Talk
Including the tale of a tragic mistake by NPR and, for the first time ever, the true story about what happened to that radio trophy that George Peabody gave us.
A lot of folks want to know how we got started.
To answer this, we need to quickly review some basics of biology: in the beginning there was our magnificent mother, Elizabeth Magliozzi, and our esteemed pere, Louis Magliozzi.
Okay, okay, we know — you couldn't care less about our formative years, when Tommy took apart and rebuilt our dad's heap over and over again — each time having a few extra parts, until eventually there was nothing left to disassemble.
You want to know about "Car Talk." You're probably wondering how two low-life bums like us could end up having a weekly radio show on a prestigious network like NPR. We're wondering too. We've been wondering for years — but it doesn't stop us from cashing that paycheck that shows up every month.
The truth is, we got a call one day back in 1977, from Vic Wheatman, the Program Director at Boston's WBUR Radio. Now, this was at the time when WBUR was a tiny little college radio station, with a signal that would get staticy whenever the wind blew.
Anyway, Vic called, asking if Tom and Ray would sit in with four other grease monkeys on a call in talk show about car mechanics. After a few milliseconds of thinking about it, Tom realized he had nothing more meaningful to do with his life, and said, "sure." (Ray claims he had a hair dressers appointment that day. This is unlikely but plausible, since Ray had hair in those days.) It turned out, Tom was the only one who showed up - all the other mechanics decided not to show their faces — wisely assuming that this "radio show" was probably some kind of Department of Consumer Affairs sting operation. So the panel of five turned out to be a panel of one: Tom. Things went surprisingly well, though: Tom gave out many wrong answers, and misled many callers — but did so with such finesse that he was invited back the following week.
And when Thomas showed up that next time the studio was empty. Vic Wheatman had been fired! There was a letter saying, "You're on your own, have a good time, and try to watch your language."
This was an historic moment in Car Talk history, for it was the only time a Program Director was fired before he or she put "Car Talk" on the air!
And the next week, Tom made The Biggest Mistake in the History of Car Talk: he brought along his brother, Ray.
The early days of Car Talk was a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth and people actually worked on their own cars. We answered a lot of questions like, "I'm stuck with my left arm in the transmission, how do I get it out?" and, "I lost a three-eighths hex wrench taking off the cylinder head, but I can't bend down to pick it up because I have the timing chain in my right hand — could you send your brother over to help me?
We were crammed into a tiny studio. It was the two of us, and an engineer who ran the control board — he had to be damn quiet, or you'd hear him on the air. We'd walked in five minutes before air time, and we always started the show with "Are we on yet? Are we on yet?" Because, the fact was, we never knew for sure when we were on the air.
The show went on in a much more leisurely pace in those days. We were on for an hour and a half, during which time we'd answer approximately three questions. It's painful to listen to those shows, now. These days, of course, we have a producer and all that stuff. Dougie Berman is always saying things like, "answer the question! answer the damn question!"
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