Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Car Talk Cuys

/Tom on the left with beard and Ray on the right
I’ve been hooked on NPR since the early 1980s. I turn it on before I even start my morning coffee to listen to the news. It stays on until I go outside to do barn chores and take my morning walk in the woods. I turn it on again around four p.m. to listen to the evening news. There was some research done in the past that claimed NPR listeners had a better grasp of today’s news than those who get it from any other source. One thing about NPR news is it’s not only balanced, but there are no political ads, and the few ads they have are very short. Most of their income depends on listeners like me who pledge money for their support every year.

It’s not just the news I like. Saturday is rich in interesting and often funny programs in addition to the news. For instance, I hate to go anyplace on a Saturday evening since I’ll miss Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion. I even enjoy the reruns. It’s not only full of humor, but also very good music.

One of the shows I’ve enjoyed so much since the 1980’s is The Car Talk Guys with Click and Clack, i.e. Tom and Ray Magliozzi. That’s why I was saddened when I heard Tom Magliozzi died of Alzheimer’s disease November 3rd at the age of 77. I knew the shows for the last two years have been reruns, but I didn’t know it was because Tom, the older brother, couldn’t do it any longer. I thought after thirty-seven years, they wanted to retire.

Both brothers are MIT graduates and Tom went on to get more degrees and taught college for a time as well as other jobs. However, he got tired of work. He was a dreamer and thought starting a “Do-it-yourself” auto mechanics shop would be a good idea so people could repair their own cars with his and his younger brother, Ray’s direction. They went bankrupt. Eventually, they started a real car repair shop hiring other mechanics to help in Cambridge, MA.

Their story of how they got a radio show is as funny as their program is. In 1977 the program director of WBUR a small Boston University station decided to have a car mechanic talk show where people could call up and get car advice. Tom was the only mechanic who showed up for the interview. It turned out the first show was good so Tom got permission to add Ray. They became a popular Boston radio show. A decade later Car Talk went national on NPR and Doug Berman, Car Talk’s executive producer moved the offices of Dewey, Cheatem and Howe to a third floor walk-up in Harvard Square, Cambridge – their fair city. Their show was a combination of car advice, relationship advice, and entertaining their audiences with slapstick comedy – a cross between the Marx Brothers and what psychologist Joyce Brothers said was “a weekly prescription for what ailed listeners’ cars and their owners.” They changed the staidness of what NPR used to be and allowed in humor and silliness to balance the seriousness found in much of NPR programs.

 Within a few years of joining NPR, Tom and Ray could be heard by a weekly audience of more than three million listeners on 660 public radio stations. Berman said, “Nobody told them how you’re supposed to sound like, ‘Hello, this is NPR’ so they just had a good time.” He also said it was almost impossible not to laugh or smile when you heard Tom laughing – and he was free with that infectious laughter. I can attest to that. When I  listen to their show, often when I’m driving someplace, I can’t stop smiling and often laughing out loud, too.

Although Tom was a dreamer, he used his science background to answer car questions on the show. Sometimes, to his amazement, he even got the answers right.

“He was really a genius,” says Berman, “and had a tremendous mind and a tremendous facile mind. He also had two sort of interesting qualities. One was he was very honest. He sort of had a good BS detector, and when someone was skipping around an issue that needed to be talked about or needed to said, he’d bore in on it. And the other quality was that he really didn’t like authority.” In his biography, I read some of those jobs he had and how he decided to quit because he grew tired of them, or didn’t enjoy them. Once he quit a good job and to keep some money coming in, he put up a sign in an apartment complex he lived in that he’d paint rooms for $50.00 each. This from a guy with a string of awesome degrees, made me smile.

For those of you who listen to NPR, you heard all the tributes that came in about him the day he died. Terry Gross brought back an early interview she did with the brothers and also had Doug Berman, long time boss and friend talk about Tom, too. The one positive thing I heard that day is that the reruns of thirty plus years is going to continue on NPR. So if you have never heard this show or haven’t listened to it in a long time, tune in to Car Talk at 10:00 a.m. Saturday mornings (at least that’s the time it’s on my station. I’m also able to hear it again at noon on Sunday if I’ve missed the Saturday show.) The reruns are going to continue not only as a tribute to Tom and for Ray, his brother, but also because  it’s such a popular radio show, I’m sure it helps when it comes time for twice yearly fund drives to support NPR.

Three comments out of many on their site: 

Judy – Even on a bad day, the sound of their laughter could make me smile. I will miss Tom’s laugh, but my loss pales in comparison to the loss Ray must be feeling. My heart goes out to him. Their relationship on air was one of the treasures they shared with us. He was an authentic man, and that is becoming a more rare thing every day.
Jefe68 – RIP Tom Magliozzi. Car Talk was more than show about cars, it was humor, philosophy, advice on relationships, and most of all that infectious unforgettable laugh of Tom “don’t drive like my brother” Magliozzi. The world lost two great Italian Americans this week named Tom. (I don’t know who the other Tom was.)
Ethan Schwartz – I’ve been listening to Tom & Ray for over 20 years during which they have been a constant source of joy and happiness in my life, like visiting with cherished relatives. Even though Tom is gone now, his wit, wisdom and personality (or lacks thereof) will continue into the future another 20 years and well beyond. I met them once at a cafĂ© in Cambridge and can honestly say they were as welcoming and friendly as they are on the show; They’re both wonderful people – my deepest condolences to Ray, the Magliozzi family and everyone else who will miss Tom.

If you want to learn more about the Car Talk Guys and especially about Tom, just Google "Car Talk Guys" and their website plus a lot of other information will come up - much more than I wrote here.

Have you ever listened to Car Talk?

Do you have a favorite radio program?


  1. My husband listens to NPR when he drives to work in the morning. When I drive, I like to listen to music, but the commercial radio stations drive me nuts. I know advertising is the means for them to stay on the air, but I don't enjoy listening to commercials. I end up putting in a CD or hooking up my iPod, but I have to admit, hearing new music is a way for me to find out what's new that I like.

    Sorry to hear of the man's death. Few brothers could work together. They must have enjoyed a wonderful relationship.

  2. They had always been just voices on the radio. I was surprised when I saw pictures of Tom with his long hair and beard – not what I had pictured. They were a hoot – and Tom’s laugh was infectious. If you weren’t laughing with him you were a zombie.

    ~ Jim

  3. Elaine, that's why I like NPR. Some NPR stations have switched to mostly talk shows, which is why I switched to a different NPR station with more music. These brothers were very close in spite of the 12 year age difference. You really should try to hear them some Saturday morning.

    Jim, I agree you would have to be a zombie not to laugh with them. Like you, they were just voices and when I did research for this blog, I was so surprised at their pictures, especially Tom with a beard, but it did suit the type of person he was, don't you agree? I also didn't know about his philosophy of life and hating work. Once they turned down a huge amount of money that kept being upped and upped by some business that wanted them to come talk at some convention in Florida because they didn't think it would be anything they'd enjoy doing. Just reading about them on their site was enough to keep me laughing.

  4. Family favorite was a Christmas show they did for a fundraiser in which they spoofed A Christmas Carol with NPR personalities playing the characters. Ira Glass was Tiny Ira.
    I liked the puzzler, too.
    I thought Ray's tribute show this week was touching.

  5. I heard part of a commencement address they did at MIT. It was great.

  6. Oh, how I loved Car Talk! I used to recommend that show to students in my sociolinguistics classes. First for the contrast between the Boston dialect of the hosts; second for the range of dialects spoken by the callers and the jokes about dialects. But most of all for top notch instruction in the gentle art of teasing. Those guys teased everyone who called, without ever crossing the line into meanness or crudeness. Grace and wit -- oh, and good advice about cars.

  7. KB, I never heard that Christmas show.I know I would have loved it and hope it's one that will rerun this year. I liked Ray's tribute show this past week, too. Some of it I'd heard before but many were new to me. Even the ones I've heard before still made me laugh.

    Warren, I'll bet they weren't serious at that commencement address, either.

    Anna, you are so right about the gentle art of teasing, not only the teasing they did of each other, but the callers. I don't think they ever offended any caller no matter what silly thing they said. Yes, good advice about cars, too. I don't take my car for an oil change as often now because they said it wasn't necessary as often as the oil lube places recommend.

  8. I remember listening to their show back when I lived in Boston - such fun - and good advice about cars. Not too many shows where there's good hearted humor and true wit like Car Talk.

  9. Shari, I so agree. I even laugh if I'm listening to a replay of Saturday's show on Sunday morning.

  10. I listened to car talk a lot, but not lately. However, I never missed their column in my local paper. That was a short snippet of their show and just as funny.

    So sad. He will be missed.

  11. I don’t usually listen to talk radio, but I have heard clips from Car Talk. I remember one from a woman who accidentally got in the “coins only” line while driving across a toll bridge and she only had dollars. She wasn’t able to switch lanes and was stuck. So, when the person in front of her paid and the toll bridge arm lifted to allow the car to drive away, she gunned it and followed. She wanted to repay the two dollars but was concerned she would be fined. The guys got the bridge manager on the phone and they all talked. It was very funny and informative. A class act.

  12. Vicki, I don't get that column in my local paper. I'm sure I would have enjoyed that, too. Yes, he will be missed especially by his family.

    Kara, they were that kind of guys. Funny abd supper nice. I really do hope they continue running the reruns for many years.

  13. Thanks for posting this. I am a dedicated Car Talk fan. The show last week with the "best of Tom" had me literally falling down laughing. Car Talk has not only entertained me but educated me. The mechanical struggles of a 1986 Aerostar van are part of my latest book and I took notes on various things that could go wrong with vehicle that age every time the topic up. I wished the show was still live so I could have called in and asked for more, but at least it still lives. The Laugh is immortal.

  14. I loved car talk. I loved listening to their laughter and their Boston accents. The brothers were so well attuned to each other that they almost knew what the other was going to say. I especially liked when they disagreed on a diagnosis. They'll be missed big time.


  15. Amber, it is so nice to hear from another fan. I turned a little late for the show the "best of Tom" and plan to see if I can find the whole show on the web. What I heard had me laughing and feeling a little sad that this warm and funny man died.

    Polly, I loved their Boston accent, too, and you're right they were so well attuned that I was surprised when I found out Tom was twelve years older than Ray. Yes, even their arguments were funny.

  16. I didn't listen regularly to Click and Clack, but I always enjoyed it when I did.

    Ditto with Prairie Home Companion. I like to think of a place where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.

    We will miss that infectious laugh.

  17. KM, I don't listen every week because I'm often busy, but enough to enjoy their humor. His laugh can't keep anyone from laughing along with him, and that's why listening to that show is so therapeutic.

    It's the same with Prairie Home Companion. Garrison Keiller is such a talented storyteller, and his show such a mixture of humor and good music.