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The Big Q | Click and Clack from Car Talk

Yankee Plus Dec 2015


The Big Q | Click and Clack from Car Talk
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With equal doses of humor and diagnostic insight, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, NPR's "Click & Clack, the Tappet Brothers," have been taking calls from automotively challenged listeners for 33 years.
Photo/Art by Jason Grow
With equal doses of humor and diagnostic insight, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, NPR’s “Click & Clack, the Tappet Brothers,” have been taking calls from automotively challenged listeners for 33 years.

Car Talk co-host Tom Magliozzi, one half of the Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers NPR radio team, who entertained millions of Americans every Saturday with their unique blend of humor and automobile savvy, died Monday, November 3, at age 77. From its debut in 1987 to when live shows ended two years ago, Car Talk had become one of NPR’s all-time favorites. A nation listened to Tom’s booming laugh and his kid brother Ray’s banter, and the car information came along for the ride. Their voices still are with us each week with archival shows that will continue. Yankee’s interview with the brothers ran in November 2010 and took place not far from their boyhood home in East Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Tom and Ray Magliozzi’s Car Talk originated on WBUR in Boston in 1977, attracting a large local following before premiering in National Public Radio syndication in 1987. Car Talk is now heard by more than 4.3 million listeners each week. The Magliozzis also write a nationally syndicated newspaper column, “Click and Clack Talk Cars.” Their most recent book is Ask Click and Clack: Answers From Car Talk.

Ray: We’ve been fortunate to have very interesting callers. They’ve sustained us. If it weren’t for the callers, we would have quit after the first couple of shows. I certainly didn’t want to sit there and talk to him [gestures toward Tom] for an hour every week.

Tom: Hell, no!

Ray: As a matter of fact, for the very first show Tom was supposed to be part of a panel of car experts. The host was supposed to ask questions, but no one else showed up, so Tom asked if he could take calls from listeners. That’s how the show was born. It was that simple, that serendipitous. The next week I came. Somehow the host got dumped, and it was just us from that point on.

Tom: Yeah, thank God we were able to take calls! [Laughter.]

Ray: For at least the first six months, we thought that [WBUR] was a studio just for BU [Boston University] students. Then we started getting calls from places like Framingham. [Laughter.] Remember, this was the seventies. Public radio was still in its infancy. I was listening to Gordon Lightfoot. I discovered him at the Harvard Coop, looking through the folk-music section. Great album cover; he’s sitting there with his guitar, kind of stretched out, with cowboy boots and a leather vest. I didn’t know any of the songs, but I bought the record. It was $1.19. I still have it. Now there’s probably no place to buy a record in Harvard Square.

Tom: Third floor of The Garage [the Cambridge shopping arcade].

Ray: Oh, that’s right. Anyway, the callers are the most important part of our show. Often we can zero in on something interesting. Some people are very open, they’ll divulge something right off–“Hi, I’m a microbiologist”–and we can explore that. [Laughter.]

The topic that probably comes up most is relationship disputes: “My husband insists on burping the car when he puts gas in it.” The guy thinks that if he pushes the car up and down as he’s adding gas, he can squeeze in another couple of gallons. The woman asks, “Is this what he should be doing?” There’s always some kind of wager riding on it.

I will say we’ve had more fun with the women callers over the years than with the guys. The women have no inhibitions. They’re not expected to know anything about cars, so they’re not restrained in what they say. Guys think they’re supposed to know stuff, and they can be kind of quiet sometimes.

The better calls are generally the ones where there’s no expectation of the caller’s knowing anything. It’s fun to kind of draw the information out of the caller. And the women aren’t afraid to look foolish. They’ll make noises; it’s always good when you can get someone to make the noise the car is making. There’s no question that when we first started doing it, all the questions were from guys, and we weren’t having any fun. Now we are.

Tom: Back then, they were all doing stuff to their own cars.

Ray: Right, that’s the way things were. The garage we had then [Hacker’s Haven] originally started off as do-it-yourself. Tom and I had envisioned that we’d stand there in white lab coats, rocking back and forth on our heels, nodding approval or shaking our heads: “No, no, no, don’t tighten that bolt too much or you’ll break it off.” We thought we could run the operation from afar. Our biggest challenge was going to be how we’d wheel out the wheelbarrows full of money. [Laughter.] What a great idea, right? These people come in; we give them a little warmth, some electric light so they can see, some expertise. We don’t get our hands dirty. They do the work, and they pay us.

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