In 1977, WBUR, the public radio station for Boston organized a panel of auto mechanics to appear on a show to talk about car problems. The only mechanic that appeared, however, was Tom Magliozzi, a 40-year-old MIT graduate who, along with his brother Ray, co-owned a unique auto garage in nearby Cambridge for people who wanted to work on their own cars. Tom’s performance on the show earned him an invitation to return, but he told the station that his younger brother Ray knew even more about cars than he did, and so began the radio series Car Talk, in which two brothers with an unconventional sense of humor and thick Boston accents take calls from people with car problems and try to help them through it.

Car Talk WBUR - Adsum
Car Talk broadcasted locally in Boston's WBUR for 10 years before becoming a nationally syndicated show. During the first 5 years Ray and Tom did it completely for free as a way to promote their garage. During their 6th year, the Tappet Brothers asked to be paid $20 a week.

By 1987, the show was broadcast nationally by National Public Radio. In 1992, the Magliozzis received a Peabody Award, the highest honor in radio broadcasting, in recognition of the brothers’ “distinguished achievement and meritorious public service.” When they finally retired in 2012, their longtime producer earnestly and not inaccurately compared their significance to that of Mark Twain and the Marx Brothers.

As a kid with a certain type of parent, NPR programming was a constant fixture of car trips, whether a 10-hour road trip or a 10-minute trip to the store. The particular sound of NPR intro music and the hushed tones and general seriousness of the hosts’ voices felt stuffy and “grown-up” in the way of being dragged along to run errands or being stuck at a party with no other kids. Yet somehow, Car Talk seemed to stand apart from everything else on public radio. Their strange voices, their bizarre jokes, their constant self-deprecation, their relationship with each other, calling each other “Click and Clack,” their instant connection with their callers –– even as a kid not grasping all of the details, it was just so clear that they were having fun, and doing it with a topic that wasn’t supposed to be fun.

Ray and Tom in 1963 Dodge Dart
For years Tom's car of choice was his $2,000, 1963 Dodge Dart.

Car Talk demystified the intricacies of car problems but the Magliozzi brothers also demystified the stuffiness of public radio. Their show was accessible, democratic, public in the most pure way and also exemplified what makes radio such a beautiful medium. The Magliozzis can be earnestly compared to Mark Twain without ever writing a novel or producing a work of art. They simply went on the radio every week and talked to ordinary people about their cars, and that was enough.