NPR announced Friday that Tom and Ray Magliozzi, hosts of the popular and long-running Car Talk, will lay down their wrenches and stop recording new episodes as of October. The show will continue, however, with producers repackaging calls mined from Car Talk’s 25-years–deep archive.
The Magliozzis, also known as Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, started recording Car Talk 35 years ago at Boston’s WBUR. NPR brought it to national distribution a decade later. It grew into public radio’s most popular show, as measured by average-quarter-hour listening, and became a fixture on many weekend morning lineups on public radio.
“We’ve managed to avoid getting thrown off NPR for 25 years, given tens of thousands of wrong answers and had a hell of a time every week talking to callers,” said Ray Magliozzi in an NPR press release. “The stuff in our archives still makes us laugh. So we figured, why keep slaving over a hot microphone?”
Archive editions of the show, which will not be promoted or identified as such, will continue indefinitely. “We’re hoping to be like I Love Lucy and air ten times a day on ‘NPR at Nite’ in 2075,” Tom Magliozzi said in a typically jocular announcement on Car Talk’s website. (Try reading the script of the back-and-forth without hearing their voices in your head.)
Materials distributed to press and NPR member stations suggest that Tom, who at 75 is 12 years the elder Magliozzi, made the decision to quit. An FAQ sent to stations said that Tom was “pretty certain” he’d never return for any future appearances, while Ray, as the “non-geezer brother,” “seemed more circumspect.”
At Tom’s announcement that he’s retiring, Ray replied, in the NPR release, “If you retired, how would you know?”
The programs that will start airing in October will recycle calls from previous shows. Car Talk’s producers have systematically archived all the calls and rated each one on an “entertainment” scale of 1 to 5.
Doug Berman, c.e.o. of Car Talk production company Dewey Cheatem & Howe, sent a letter to stations assuring them that a less-than-fresh Car Talk will still attract strong audiences. “25 years in, we’re actually going back and editing the series, to make it better, stronger, and funnier,” he wrote (emphasis in original).
In fact, NPR has already been testing the approach by distributing more archived shows in recent years. According to Arbitron Portable People Meter data from 16 “important” markets, measured across 28 weeks from 2009 to 2010, encore hours did not consistently draw significantly fewer listeners than new episodes did.
NPR also surveyed listeners about their awareness of hearing old Car Talk calls. Seventy percent disagreed with the statement “It seems that Car Talk is repeating old shows.”
Berman also said that listener loyalty to the show increased over the past year, even as archived shows increased, and actual listenership stayed level.
While most listeners surveyed made positive comments about the show, some were less kind. “The guys’ act is getting a bit old,” one said. “And my father taught me to despise men who laughed at their own jokes.”
The encore shows will be presented just as today’s shows are, according to NPR. “The fact that the guys are no longer recording new shows will be public, but we don’t feel it’s in the interest of the series to continually advertise that at the beginning of each new show,” the network said in an FAQ distributed to stations.
The Magliozzis will continue to give out the 800 number listeners call for advice, but callers will hear a message stating that the program is no longer accepting calls.
The archived episodes may include dated references, such as mentions of older car models, but NPR said producers will remove nonessential references such as “mileage numbers that seem excessively low, or advice that a caller go immediately to his nearest Yugo dealer (although the old “Fiat dealer” references can go back in now!).”
The brothers will continue to record timely “Even though …” kickers for the ends of episodes and will also keep up their newspaper column.
The continuation of the show is good news for everyone, Berman joked in his letter to stations, “except the Zamfir Pan Flute show that’s been coveting Car Talk’s timeslot.”
Reaction to the announcement was swift and widespread. KQED compiled a Storify version of how it all played out.