If you listen to your local NPR station, this weekend marks a significant milestone. Saturday is the last day that most will broadcast an episode of the network’s long-running automotive call-in show Car Talk. It’s an end of an era, and one that will be sorely missed.
For thirty years, Car Talk featured Boston mechanics Tom and Ray Magliozzi (affectionately known to listeners as Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers) as they took calls from thousands of callers across the world (and even a couple from astronaut John Grunsfeld from orbit), answering questions about cars, car repairs, or anything else that came to mind. The show began accidentally in 1977 when Tom went to Boston’s WBUR for a radio interview, and was invited back, this time accompanied by his brother. Their personalities got them the offer of a weekly show, which eventually went national-wide in 1986. Car Talk eventually earned a prestigious Peabody Award in 1992, while the brothers also ended up filming cameos in films like Cars.
Car Talk became NPR’s most popular weekly show, and it ended its run in 2012, and co-host Tom Magliozzi passed away in 2014 due to complications from Alzheimer's disease. NPR has since produced and aired an edited version of the show, The Best of Car Talk, which drew on the 12,000 phone callers that they’ve spoken with since they began.
Even though NPR won’t be updating the show with new or remixed content, devoted listeners will still be able to get their weekly fix: some stations around the country will continue to air re-runs of the episodes, and the episodes will remain online as a podcast. In many instances, stations are adding a new roster of programs to their weekend lineup, such as Hidden Brain or It’s Been A Minute, podcasts that have been adapted for the radio.
While nothing remains eternal, not hearing the show on Saturday mornings will be strange. The show has been a Saturday morning fixture for millions of listeners. For me, Car Talk was a regular fixture when I accompanied my dad on a trash run, or on those early morning trips home from camp. When I got a car of my own, the show became something that I’d regularly listen to, even as I end up outsourcing most of my repairs to the local garage.
What made the show a delight week after week was the brothers’ self-deprecating humor, ridiculous reproductions of car sounds, puns, raucous laughter, and genuine advice on what to do when faced with car trouble, ranging from the mundane, such as diagnosing a bad wheel bearing to helping a caller figure out if she could anonymously pay a bridge toll after running a gate.
While light-hearted and goofy to listen to, the show covered the mechanical side of cars in a way that even the non-mechanically-inclined could understand and make use of. As cars become more complicated and we move past the era of the hobbyist mechanic, figuring out what was wrong was half the fun. Listening to the pair reason out problems and dispense down-to-earth advice about cars, relationships, and everything else was the perfect way to “waste a perfectly good hour” of one’s weekend.