BOSTON — The Car Talk brothers are retiring. The hugely popular radio show Car Talk will stop producing new live shows this fall, after 35 years on WBUR-FM. The program created and produced at WBUR and syndicated by NPR on more than 600 stations will continue broadcasting new shows using archive material.
In 1977, a producer at WBUR asked two local car mechanics from Cambridge, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, if they could join a few other mechanics and answer calls on-air. Back then, cars were simpler and a lot of people fixed them in their driveways. Tom showed up at the studio. Ray didn’t come, neither did any of the other mechanics. Tom was invited back and the next week brought his brother. The two quickly became known as Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers.
Chances are you know the show is less about car repair and more about relationships. And the brothers making fun of each other.
The brothers, who both graduated from MIT, are as local as you can get, which is what makes them so appealing, said WBUR Program Director Sam Fleming.
“They’re funny, they’re real, they’ve got Boston accents, they are like one of us,” Fleming said. “They’re like the kind of guys that you and I like to run into in a diner on a Saturday morning.”
In 1987, after 10 years of weekly banter on WBUR, their style caught the attention of NPR’s Susan Stamberg. As the host of a new program, Sunday Weekend Edition, she was looking for new talent.
“There are many versions of this story, but for reasons that will become clear, mine is my favorite,” Stamberg said.
Stamberg said Click and Clack’s demo tape went around NPR and everyone turned it down.
“Then I listened and said, ‘Are you kidding?’ You‘ll see now why this is my favorite version of the story,” she said. “Of course we will put them on the air, these guys are hilarious, they are well-informed, everybody loves cars, and those accents will hit it out of the ballpark. So it turned out I was right.”
Was she ever. After their weekly appearances with Stamberg, the show was syndicated by NPR. It’s now carried on 660 stations around the country and is the second most-listened to hour every week on WBUR. Now, after 25 years on national air, they will no longer record new shows.
“They always said they were going to do it as long as it was fun,” said Doug Berman, the show’s senior producer. “The other day I said, ‘Remember we said we’re going to do it as long as it’s fun,’ and everybody walked out, so…”
Tom is 74 years old; his little brother Ray is 63. They say they want to “stop and smell the cappuccino.” NPR and WBUR will continue to air Car Talk every Saturday. The show will be put together using the top tier of some 12,500 phone calls in the archives.
“Certainly their humor is timeless and the way they interact with people, I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere,” Fleming said. “I think we will enjoy it as much as we always have.”
Car Talk has built a successful enterprise. The Tappet Brothers have a weekly syndicated column. The Car Talk website has answers to questions about buying, owning and selling cars. It shows Car Talk the brand has grown far larger than its weekly radio show. It’s also had some brand extension failures: Car Talk the cartoon flopped on PBS television.
But it’s the weekly banter, and the features such as “the Puzzler” and “Stump the Chump” that listeners fell in love with and will continue to hear every Saturday morning. Even though the program will be “canned,” the laughter and joy the brothers shared with each other never is.