|/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 café 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?