A Quarter Century of Sloth, Ignominy and Bad Car Advice
How’d this colossal programming blunder come to be? It seems that long, long ago, when Boston’s NPR station, WBUR, was a mere stripling, some producer had the bright idea of asking half a dozen auto mechanics to come on the air and answer listeners’ questions about cars.
He invited a bunch of guys. Wisely, most thought it was an FBI scam. One was not so bright. He showed up.
That mechanic’s name was Tom Magliozzi. Apparently he did okay, because they asked him to come back the next week. “Sure,” Tom said. “Can I bring my brother?”
That was 35 years ago. For 10 years, Car Talk was just a plague on Our Fair City. Then, a decade later, NPR repeated WBUR’s mistake—and Car Talk infected the entire, young but august network. And, like a rash that won’t go away, it’s been irritating NPR’s tuchus ever since.
As we commiserate over a quarter century of nationwide lousy car advice, our web site lackey took a moment to hang out with Tom and Ray, and grill them a bit about those years. Here’s her Q&A with our humble hosts.
Lackey: Thinking back to those early years of the show, did you ever imagine it would go for so many years?
TOM: Are you kidding? We were thrilled to get through the entire half hour without getting fired. Every week that we showed up and there weren’t armed guards at the station door with our mug shots, we thought someone upstairs was sleeping on the job.
RAY: Luckily for us, that person must have been promoted at NPR at some point, because they’re still letting our show go out over the network, 25 years later.
Lackey: You’ve spent decades working together—that’s a lot of time to spend with a sibling, no matter how charming he is. Any bumps in the road over the years?
RAY: Bumps? No. Mostly huge sinkholes. Actually, we’re 12 years apart, and we’ve always gotten along wonderfully.
TOM: It’s hard to believe, but it’s always fun to come in here and do the show with my brother every week. Except when he’s being a jerk. Which is usually.
Lackey: We came across your high-school class photos. Did you work on cars back then?
TOM: No, mostly they landed on us, as you can see from the photos.
RAY: Of course. We were both interested in taking stuff apart from an early age. And we got good at it pretty quickly. Unfortunately, it took another few decades to get any good at putting things back together.
TOM: We’re still working on that.
Lackey: We know you have a reputation to maintain, but have you ever been truly stumped by a caller?
TOM: No more than six to eight times per show. Of course we get stumped. All the time.
RAY: Haven’t you ever heard me say out loud to my brother, “You stall her with some meaningless questions, while I try to come up with something?"
TOM: We actually have no reputations to maintain, except for being honest, and nice guys. We readily admit that we know very little about anything, and that’s given us tremendous freedom. You should try it!
Lackey: We’ve been poking around in the archives at Car Talk Plaza, and we’re amazed at what we’ve found. Tell us about the time Martha Stewart was on the show?
RAY: She was a fan, I guess, and her daughter wrote to us and asked if we’d ever consider having her on the show. We thought it sounded like fun, so we saved up some calls about cleaning and decorating cars, and a few about insider trading, and got her to help us with those. She was a great sport. It was a funny segment.
Lackey: What are your favorite moments from Car Talk over the past 35 years?
RAY: Oh, geez. Well, we know the listeners’ favorite moment. It’s when the show ends every week, because it means it’ll be another 167 hours before they have to endure us again.
TOM: There are too many to count. We’ve been working on a CD called “25 Years of Lousy Car Advice” for our stations to give away during the fundraiser. It’s 25 years because that’s how long we’ve been on NPR, after only 10 years here on WBUR. And we’ve been stumbling across some real beauties.
RAY: There’s Christy, the girl who overheated and croaked her father’s car on a four-hour, high-speed dash to a college party. Then she told him she had no idea why his car wouldn’t start. And years later, she was feeling guilty, so she called us to ask if her drive had, in fact, ruined it. We told her there was no question that she was responsible, and we managed to get her father on the phone and made her confess.
TOM: We’re finding lots of stuff that’s making us laugh. I guess we have a pretty good time every week, don’t we?