WBUR’s “Car Talk” Is Leaving the Airwaves: Here’s Some History on the Greatest Car Radio Show
You had a parent like my dad who, when driving, would listen to NPR, National Public Radio. As a kid, the news bored you, and the hosts seemed rather bland. They just blended together in a hodgepodge of radio shows. All except one supplemental show, recorded for WBUR and aired on NPR, that stuck out like a sore thumb. Car Talk, one of the most influential automotive radio shows (for better or worse) made generations of commuters laugh about the mechanical bits and bobs of their car. And after over 40 years on the air, it’s time to lay the radio show to rest.
The background and brief history of Car Talk
If you’ve never heard of Car Talk, I’ll give you a brief history, but go listen to them after you’re done reading this. The show started more or less on accident when Tom and Ray Magliozzi walked into a radio interview in their fair city, Cambridge Massachusetts. Upon hearing the bubbly chemistry of these two goofy brothers, they were offered a weekly, hour-long radio show. The first episode of Car Talk was aired in 1977, and ran all the way through 2012.
Formatted as a call-in radio show, Ray and Tom (also known as Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers) would answer questions, tell stories, and share riddles every week. But what kept everyone going back was their personalities. With their collective quick wit, kids and adults alike could laugh alone, even if they weren’t mechanically inclined.
The show ended in 2012 when the Magliozzi brothers retired, and shortly after that, Tom passed at 77 due to complications with Alzheimer’s. But despite the bitter-sweet ending, reruns and unheard content has been broadcasted on NPR as “The Best of Car Talk” every week since then.
Rat Magliozzi reflects on the car talk experience
The younger of the brothers, Ray recently sat down with WBUR to reflect on the show. “We didn’t know anything about doing anything on radio! For the first three, four, five months, we’d see the ‘On Air’ light come on, and we would ask the engineer, ‘So, are we on now?’ And he must have said, ‘Oh, my God, they are the two stupidest guys on the planet!'”
Ray continued, “the show was completely unrehearsed, unvarnished and — what’s the other word? Unprofessional. You know, it was completely amateurish. And I think people listened to a large extent to see how many mistakes we’d make in a given hour.”
The hour-long episodes consisted of “sage” advice wrapped up in name-calling and general banter. “For example, a woman would call and say, ‘Well, my father-in-law says that I have to warm the car up for 20 minutes.’ And, you know, I think the first time or two we got that [type of] call we were very diplomatic. And then after a while we said, ‘He’s an idiot! You know, you don’t have to tell him he’s an idiot. But if he’s listening, he knows he’s an idiot. Nobody warms up a car for 20 minutes unless you live in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan!”
“It was a great run we had. And the truth is, you know, I consider myself very, very lucky to have had Tommy as long as I had him. And I wish he was still here. But I can look back at all the fun things we did and not feel at all like I got cheated, you know? Really. I mean, it’s like, what a wonderful time we had!”
You can listen to Car Talk podcasts on their website
As of October 1st, Car Talk will no longer be played on the radio. But luckily for any car enthusiast (or people with an hour to waste), Car Talk is far from gone.
Old episodes and The Best of Car Talk segments will be put onto the Car Talk website twice a week. The podcasts are also available on Apple, Spotify, and Google right now. In other words all the content is still floating around on the internet. Replacing the weekly segment on the radio is “Bullseye,” where authors, musicians, actors and others share their creative processes and projects.
The car talk website also features a column, where Ray still answers automotive questions and cracks jokes. But in the interview with WBUR, Ray delivered a final piece of advice. “Don’t take anything too seriously. Laugh when you can, have a good time and enjoy the people around you because you know, it’s a short trip. And here’s the message: thanks for listening!”