January 12, 2005


Motor mouths: Success and spinoffs put Magliozzi brothers of 'Car Talk' in the driver's seat (Joseph P. Kahn, January 12, 2005, Boston Globe)

Politically correct as NPR may pride itself on being, "Car Talk, which attracts a robust 4.3 million listeners a week on 596 stations, manages to mock more affinity groups than Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern combined. The official list of People We've Offended, compiled by staff producer Doug Mayer, is 80 entries long and includes: lawyers, rednecks, dyslexics, Camaro drivers, Presbyterians, vegetarians, cellphone users, guys who drive chick cars, history teachers, wackos in Alaska, cat lovers, grandmothers, and the mentally ill.

Targets of the show's humor sometimes fire back. After Tom made a crack on-air about a tailgate problem the Dodge Caravan was having, suggesting in his usual irreverent manner that Chrysler Corp. had "paid off" investigators to forestall a recall, a highly unamused Chrysler representative demanded a public correction and got one -- sort of.

Tom did correct the record during a subsequent show, saying something to the effect that no money had actually changed hands and that Caravan passengers were only being ejected through the back doors of moving vehicles, not the sunroofs and side doors as he might have mistakenly said. However, he was guffawing so loudly that listeners may have confused his mea culpa for a Ford Windstar commercial.

Ray, again: "What we do may be in bad taste, but it's rarely mean. We're not shock jocks. We're usually laughing at ourselves. And most listeners know we have good hearts."

A footnote: Their late mother, Elizabeth Magliozzi, who costars on the new "Car Talk" CD titled "Maternal Combustion: Calls About Moms and Cars," was repeatedly accused of having a drinking problem and prison record. On national radio. By her own sons. Did she demand an apology? No. Only that they stop smoking cigars. Which they have -- sort of.

There really is a company called Dewey, Cheetham & Howe. (You can look it up). It has offices in Harvard Square and was founded in 1992, when Berman and the Magliozzis decided to set up operations independent from WBUR, Boston University, NPR, or any other entity that might potentially cramp their freewheeling style. In October, Berman, the CEO of DC&H, signed a new five-year contract with NPR and WBUR, ensuring that "Car Talk" will motor along on public radio until late 2009, at least.

Ah, you ask, but what about commercial radio? Or satellite radio? After all, any new medium that's adding both Stern and Bob Edwards to its lineup must look awfully attractive to such Radio Hall of Famers as the Magliozzi brothers, who also boast a Peabody Award among other trophies of their trade. Moreover, as anyone who spends time around Tom and Ray knows, the boys swear like auto mechanics when they're off the air. Satellite radio could be a perfect fit for them. On satellite, they could do "Click and Clack: Unplugged and Uncensored."

Tom: "Actually, that's not a bad idea. We could say 'pop the clutch' with a whole different inflection."

Ray: "The callers would be more interesting, too. It would be, like, 'My transmission just [soiled] the bed.' "

(Insert cackling sound effects here.)

Meanwhile, an animated PBS series is in development, based on the Magliozzi brothers and their "Car Talk" personas. (Think "South Park" set in an auto shop.) Tom and Ray will voice the main characters. The two of them plus Berman and other staffers have been hired as script writers and creative consultants on the show, which could air as early as next year. They also write a newspaper column for King Features Syndicate that appears in 320 newspapers nationwide and are a year overdue on their latest book, a guidebook for rookie drivers titled "What Every New Driver Should Know," destined to join such titles as "In Our Humble Opinion" and "A Haircut in Horse Town . . . ."

All these commercial enterprises -- plus their Department of Shameless Commerce, offering hats, neckties, CDs, coffee mugs, etc. for sale on the www.cartalk.com website -- have made the Magliozzis quite comfortable, if not filthy rich.

They deserve every penny--it's the best thing on radio this side of baseball.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 12, 2005 9:23 AM

The least P.C. thing on NPR and the only
funny thing (coincidence?)

Posted by: J.H. at January 12, 2005 9:33 AM

Only intentionally funny thing.

Posted by: at January 12, 2005 9:47 AM

They gave the 1999 commencement address at their alma mater, MIT.

Posted by: Mike Earl at January 12, 2005 10:21 AM

Every once in a while Tom and Ray will show their politcial leanings, which are slightly nanny-statish (wadda want, they live in Massachusetts). But their ability to keep the usual NPR politics almost completely out of their show is the main reason why it's just about the only NPR offering that isn't reliably annoying, as well as being one of only two car shows I know of (Wheels with Ed Wallace on Dallas' KLIF Saturdays being the other) that people not obsessed to having problems with their cars can listen to.

Plus, what other NPR show would borrow their corporate name from an old Three Stooges episode (even if it was one with Shemp)?

Posted by: John at January 12, 2005 10:24 AM

Another good syndicated talk show is The Dave Ramsey Show - financial talk with an attitude.

Posted by: Bartman at January 12, 2005 11:04 AM

They can't die quick enough. I don't know who has the more annoying laugh.

Posted by: robert at January 12, 2005 2:47 PM

A friend on the MIT faculty since about 1975 said it was the worst commencement address he'd ever heard.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at January 12, 2005 11:55 PM