NPR’s ‘Best of Car Talk’ will end in September 2017

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Tom and Ray Magliozzi, hosts of Car Talk. (Photo: Richard Howard)

Public radio’s Car Talk will undergo another transformation next year as its producer pulls back from offering repackaged “best of” editions of the longtime weekend staple.

NPR announced Wednesday that Best of Car Talk, which airs on 654 stations, will end production as of Sept. 30, 2017. Some stations may continue to air a version of the show, however, and it will continue as a podcast as well.

Car Talk ended production of brand-new episodes in 2012 with the retirement of iconic hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the chatty, cackling car-mechanic brothers who started the show at WBUR in Boston in 1977. They stepped away from their mics as Tom Magliozzi’s health was declining; he died in 2014 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

Best of Car Talk is NPR’s third most–listened-to show, with a weekly audience of 2.6 million. It is the network’s most widely carried weekend show behind its newsmagazines and Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!

Even as it continues to reach large audiences, however, some stations and listeners have suggested that Car Talk should head for the junkyard. In a 2012 commentary for Current, This American Life host and executive producer Ira Glass urged stations to stop carrying the repeats, at least on Saturday mornings. “A show that’s 100 percent reruns doesn’t fit with our mission as public broadcasters,” he wrote.

WNYC in New York dropped Best of Car Talk last year, and Chicago’s WBEZ followed suit several months later. Listeners and public media insiders alike complain about the persistence of “Zombie Car Talk.”

As NPR and Car Talk production company Dewey, Cheatem & Howe considered ending the repackaged episodes, “the responses we got from stations and listeners were all over the board,” said longtime executive producer Doug Berman in an email to Current. “Some were ready to move on, some were really upset at the prospect of losing Car Talk.”

“We think this plan will satisfy the greatest number of people,” he added. “Those stations that want to move on are given a graceful way to do it without looking like the bad guy, and those that still want the presence on their air will have a natural inflection point at which they can move it to another day part and refresh their Saturday mornings.”

Since going into repeats, Car Talk’s audience has remained “pretty solid” but showed “a little slippage,” said Israel Smith, NPR’s senior director of promotion and audience development. But stations and listeners have been telling NPR that they feel ready for new programs, Smith said, “and we want to create the space for that to happen.”

NPR told stations in December 2015 that it was researching listeners’ response to Car Talk’s repackaged episodes. That research “confirmed for us that while a chunk of the audience still loves the show and finds it a gateway for public radio and a gateway for weekend listening, a portion of audience felt like it was time for something new,” Smith told Current. “It corroborated what we’d heard in other places.”

Some listeners said the show was less relevant because it referred to older cars, though more than twice as many said that didn’t bother them.

The change comes as NPR prepares to welcome new director of programming Steve Nelson next month. With Car Talk winding down, Nelson and Anya Grundmann, NPR’s v.p. of programming and audience development, will “be in a place … to hit the ground running and make the best new thing for weekend schedules,” Smith said.

The end of Car Talk is a “melancholy moment” for WBUR, said Charlie Kravetz, general manager at the Boston station.

“It’s a bit of serendipity that is going to be very hard to replicate, to find these two brilliant, funny, endearing guys who helped us to understand life by talking about cars,” Kravetz said. “No one ever would sit around a table and come up with a program like that. It just emerged.”

The show’s transition brings another change to public radio’s weekends not long after Garrison Keillor left the stage of A Prairie Home Companion for the last time. “It’s a passage for WBUR and all of public radio,” Kravetz said. “And I think we all have a bit of a wake-up call to invest in new programming and make sure that public radio has great new content in the pipeline in the coming years.”

The show’s departure is “a little sad,” said Sam Fleming, managing director of news and programming at WBUR. Though in repeats, “still to this day, you turn it on, and it makes you laugh and keeps you company while you’re doing your Saturday chores. It’s still a wonderful program in that regard,” Fleming said.

“Most people don’t have any idea how much care and editing is involved” in creating the archive episodes, Berman said. The level of production work on any future Car Talk shows for radio and podcast will depend on station and audience interest, but Berman said he expects that “we will certainly have to resize the production company after September of next year. … [T]here’s no doubt, we will be smaller.”

Dewey, Cheatem & Howe will continue to run Car Talk’s website and vehicle-donation program and put out its syndicated newspaper column. But what of Marge Innovera, Zbigniew Chrysler and Car Talk’s extensive imaginary staff thanked every week in closing credits?

“They’ll be going to work in the coal mine,” Berman said. “Along with Erasmus B. Draggon.”

Clarification: This article has been updated to reflect that the show will definitely continue as a podcast after Sept. 30, 2o17.

  • Legend. Even we remember “The Car Of The Future” from WGBH’s NOVA. The Magliozzi bros. appears in public TV. That was 2005. DVD available at ShopPBS.org (you can support PBS).

  • earnric

    I still laugh every time I listen… Thanks Tom and Ray… Thanks.

  • Ann VerWiebe

    I just hope that there are some shows in development that are as relatable as Car Talk. Cross generations, liberals and conservatives, coast-dwellers and fly-over states – everyone listens!

  • timvandehey

    I discovered NPR about 20 years ago while living in Laguna Beach, California, and couldn’t have been more delighted. The first show I listened to was All Things Considered; the second was Car Talk, and I loved it instantly. It IS time to move on, but I will always cherish both the memory of the program and the fact that sometimes, when left alone, odd ingredients can come together and defy programmers, demographers and common sense to make magic. Well done, Tom & Ray.

  • James Douglas

    Like Garrison Keillor, maybe Ray and Doug can find a young and fresh replacement for the show? Unlike Garrison, they should find somebody with the depth of personality and humor necessary for a successful transition.

    • MarkJeffries

      If they were going to do it, they should’ve done it years ago and not go into perpetual reruns.

  • chris doeller

    Great show, and I would be very happy if another car repair show would take its place. Ray could be one of the speakers. But I realize that the non car related banter is more appealing to most of today’s Americans than the actual auto repair related advice, so it would be unlikely to ever be considered.
    The fact that Prairie Home Companion is trying to continue with a new host says the NPR bigwigs could consider doing the same. But i detect a downsizing of number of new episodes of running programs, in general, at NPR. These past several years witness more repeat and clip show than I remember.

    What we do not need is more chit-chat (like Bulls Eye) or ersatz game shows (Tell Me Another)which cater to pop culture and pander to millennials.

    • MarkJeffries

      Guess you want public radio to die the same day you do, huh Boomer? And Jesse Thorn *is* a millennial, so how can you call what he does “pandering?” Couldn’t it be what he is genuinely interested in and that he is is offering a more in-depth approach of interviewing his guests than the three-funny-stories-and-plug-your-project approach of most TV talk shows? What do you want on public radio? Nothing but Beethoven and Noam Chomsky speeches?

      • chris doeller

        I think its the large number of people he gets on his show who cannot complete a sentence with out peppering it with words “like” “you know” “I mean”

        • MarkJeffries

          Which one of my questions is this supposed to be a response to? And if you claim to be a great intellectual, where’s the apostrophe between “t” and “s” in “it’s” and the period at the end of the sentence?

  • Monica Koerperich

    I sat down today, drinking my coffee, and turned Car Talk on by accident. It had been years since I listened to it. Guess I got too busy with all the social media. What a great experience. I truly laughed with these two beloved brothers. I will turn them on again, but not by accident next week. I will look forward to a world gone by, there was no conflict apperant on this show. No bullying, no hate, and non-judgemental Just great humor. I think we should laugh more, it is probably more healthier then too much social media. I am looking forward to next time I catch them on.

  • Mi St

    If they really think that reruns don’t fit in public broadcasting, maybe they should get rid of The Lawrence Welk show first. Once they manage that they can think about dropping Car Talk

    • MarkJeffries

      Public radio and television are two separate organizations and systems–and the Lawrence Welk reruns are not PBS, but distributed by the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority separate from PBS. I’ve never been happy about the Welk reruns, but I also realize that they provide entertainment for an audience that commercial television doesn’t care about (and that the fans of Welk will be leaving this earthly vale soon enough and there will be no further reason to air the show). “Car Talk” came on the air as an information program that used comedy as a means of getting to the information and making it palatable to the listener. When a lot of the cars the Magliozzis are heard talking about aren’t on the road for the most part and the technology has changed, the argument for the show staying on purely as comedy is not a strong one.

      • Tom Bush

        Tell me why not?? As mentioned in numerous posts there are very few humorous shows left on public radio. And DON’T give that stuff about wait wait and other shows. They have no genuine personalities like the tappet brothers and even less comic content no matter how they try.
        I echo others who say modernize the car talk ( call it car care or some other name that reminds one of car talk) find hosts that have a similar talent to entertain.
        The Magliozzi brothers as good as they were are not the only duo
        that could have that rapport with their listeners. Car Talk by any name is a useful and popular idea still. which is why you’re getting sooo much flack.. Pub Rads. indifference to the value and importance of a auto advice type offering, is sadly indicative of the lazy attitude of current
        independent radio ( that’s public radio in case you missed that). Just dispose of Car Talk and put something else, whatever, on. Is your Sat.AM time so important?
        If it is then whatever you replace Car Talk with had better be VERY
        good! I’m not interested and it may be unwise and shortsighted
        to assume that other dedicated listeners don’t share my conviction.

        • MarkJeffries

          Perhaps you never read the complaints from listeners about the Magliozzis’ voices and “forced laughter” and that they were not suitable for the high standards of public radio. I think I saw once something saying that public radio should not even do anything about cars because it would be supporting pollution and congestion, not to mention evil corporate capitalist AmeriKKKa and the oligarchs at the Clinton Foundation. And the Radio Survivor people who love Pacifica and amateur night “community” and college radio have never hidden their distaste for the Magliozzis and were happy to see “Car Talk” go (they don’t like Kellior either).

          Now I should say that I don’t agree with the above, but there are the large pockets of listenership who saw “Car Talk” as the beginning of the precious hours being taken away from the public radio schedules for “culture” (as in Bach, Beethoven and Brahms) in favor of what they call “yammering.” These people didn’t win because the people who listen to the drive time news shows and Scott Simon on Saturday mornings stuck around for “Car Talk” and in many cases stick around for “Wait, Wait…” and Ira Glass, despite what you think. And oh yes–they’re the ones who always make those annual donations and in some cases don’t need pledge drives to tell them to send them in. If your public radio listening was only to the Tappets on Saturday morning, well, too bad. It’s over. Deal with it.

  • Brad Deltan

    The real “problem” here is that NPR has actively eschewed developing personality-based shows for many years now. I’m not 100% sure where the line was on that, but I’d wager it had a lot to with Bob Edwards’ acrimonious departure from Morning Edition.

    And NPR’s not alone here, either. PRI, PRX and APM are all just as guilty.

    Instead, outside of the news stuff, they’ve focused exclusively on panel-esque shows (Wait Wait, Ask Me Another), interview shows (Bullseye, TED Radio Hour, Fresh Air, Freakonomics) and heavily on storytelling (The Moth, Snap Judgment, This American Life, RadioLab, etc). Even the new APHC puts less emphasis on host Chris Thile and more on the guests, bands, skits, etc.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it violates the first law of radio: people listen because they have a connection with whoever’s speaking. Usually that connection is one of trust, and you don’t trust a panel, an interviewee, or a story…you trust a personality. People trusted Tom & Ray to make them laugh, and they did.

    NPR, and its member stations, badly need to take some risks by finding true radio personalities and building a show around them. Car Talk didn’t succeed because it was about cars, after all. It succeeded because Tom & Ray’s easygoing, self-deprecating humor was incredibly well-done and worked perfectly for the radio. Maybe it was a natural talent for them, rather than the result of decades of honing a craft, but if so they were utter prodigies.

    You’re not going to find more folks like that unless you put a lot of effort into it. NPR has not done so.

    • MEWSNEWS

      I really miss Tom and Ray’s humor. That aside…there is nothing outdated about their show. We have listened to and enjoyed their antics for years.

      So why don’t the producers ask Ray for guidance and input? Perhaps Ray could share how he perceives that timeslot evolving?

      Can’t Ray be a part of the station’s continuing success?

      • Brad Deltan

        I don’t want to speak on his behalf, but my operating assumption has been that if Ray wanted Car Talk to continue, it would’ve.

        I can see why he wouldn’t, though. It must’ve been a deeply personal decision, considering it was someone he literally has known all his life and had a deep friendship with, in addition to being family. Being an only child I can’t really relate, but I can understand why he wouldn’t want to try and “replace” Tom like that. Similarly, I can see why he wouldn’t want the show to continue under new hosts; the show was really about them. I think honestly it’d be better not to saddle a new show with new hosts with the burdens of expectations were it to still be called “Car Talk”.

        And that doesn’t even get into the fact that Ray isn’t exactly young himself, and might prefer to slow down a little. As much as they joke about how they never did any real work on the show, that’s not really true. I know both put in a fair amount of time every week in both show prep and, more importantly, the sheer business of running the overall show; managing staff, working events, station relations, etc.

  • Blasthoff

    I am so glad that the podcasts will still be available. Many of us are defensive of the fact that we are hopelessly addicted to the infectious laughs of Tom and Ray Magliozzi. We don’t travel much, but when we do I keep a stock of Car Talk podcasts for the roadtrip. For those of us who have been around for awhile, Car Talk “defines” Saturday mornings

  • lbf1

    I’ll be sorry to see Car Talk go, it was a part of my NPR life, but it’s been time for a while.
    What worries me is that NPR is going to replace it with another shallow hipster program like “Ask Me Another.”
    There’s a wealth of material out there waiting to be stolen from old defunct shows. Remember “My Word,” the BBC show with Frank Muir? Very educated format. I listened to it from my late 20s until it stopped when I was in my mid-30s. It skewed to all ages. I wonder if NPR could find 6 people literate and witty enough to do a similar show.

    • J-J

      You mean like “Says You”?

  • Frank Savo

    Listening this morning to my favorite NPR radio show (Car Talk) so disappointing to hear Car Talk is getting the ax. Saturday mornings will not be the same. Will have to purchase the CD’s while they are still available. What a witty, informative and entertaining show. We will ALL miss you. Thank you for a job well done. Not a fan of Wait, Wait much too sarcastic and prejudiced. Listened to Dick Estell, The Radio Reader while living in Miami loved it wish NPR would consider that instead of the new programming. Living in the Northeast now – no Radio Reader here. Thank you for the memories Car Talk!

    • Pearl

      Wait Wait is sarcastic and biased. Not interested in the least. NPR doesn’t need another hipster panel show.

      • Brad Deltan

        Hey Pearl, totally honest question here: what’s your thoughts on Ask Me Another? It’s a lot like Wait Wait but at the same time, it’s a very different show. I know at least a few stations are using it as a replacement to Car Talk since CT was so often paired with WWDTM and AMA arguably is the next best pairing with WWDTM.

  • The problem with the show is that is old content. They talk about cars from the ’70s/’80s/90’s, so the show is getting outdated. They are funny brother and I will miss then.

    • Brad Deltan

      Kinda hard to have “new” content when they stopped production five years ago and Tom Magliozzi died in 2014, ya know?

  • Pearl

    Actually, it was the only show I listened to on NPR. They were funny, intelligent, and had great common sense. NPR as a whole is so far left, often elitist, I mostly tune it out. Ira Glass is wrong and I wonder if he’s not a bit jealous. Car Talk is timeless. It really wasn’t about just cars. Not in the least. Ira doesn’t get it.

    • MEWSNEWS

      Couldn’t have said it better. Agree with you totally…

  • Robbie McIntosh

    Listening to the radio this morning. And of course every Saturday morning. I just know that it was just about a little over a year ago that NPR announced it’s decision to discontinue Car Talk by the end of September 2017. With me serving my mission out in Salt Lake City Utah for my church. I found out about it at least 2 months after NPR announced it. And now with the month of August starting. And September approaching at least 1 month from now. I realize 100% that I really do not have very many Saturdays left or very long to listen to Car Talk. I did a count today there is exactly 8 more weeks left till the show goes off the air. 9 counting of how long I will be able to listen to the show. I was told by the station manager of my local public radio station that the producers of the show are planning a month’s worth of special programs to help listeners say goodbye. I will indeed look forward to listening to those shows. It is indeed one of those bittersweet moments for me. I like everybody else am sad to see it go. But also happy that I for one have the podcast to subscribe to so that I can hear it anytime. Or I can seek it out for my personal use by using recordings of it that I have made from my computer from my local NPR station from the time that it was still being produced. Or it could be possible that I could find another public radio station that is still airing the show and can listen to it there. But I don’t know if that really will happen.

    I will indeed miss Car Talk when it goes off the air. I am a huge fan of the show. It has been a part of my life since my growing up years from when I was a little boy. I can’t really remember the exact first time I heard Car Talk but I assume I was between the ages of like 4 or 5 years old. Not exactly sure. But as always is the case shows come and shows go Car Talk has been on the air for more than 30 years. 40 to be exact about the years at WBUR in Boston. I also love the laughter of Tom and Ray Magliozzi as well as their advice about cars. The only thing that I think is the problem with Car Talk now is I think the stuff they are discussing is pretty much outdated. They talk about older cars that date back to like the (60’s 70’s 80’s or even 90’s) But I also do know that the show has definitely run it’s course on the air and also made a lasting and huge impact on public radio. I know that many of you are unlike me I would rather want reruns of Car Talk on forever. Just like The Lawrence Welk Show for example which has been on the air since the 60’s. They stopped producing the show live a long time ago. And still after all of these years they are airing reruns of old shows.

    I wish it could be that way for Car Talk when I first learned that Car Talk was no longer going to be producing new episodes and airing just repeats of old shows. I thought that those shows would stay on forever. And that NPR would continue running them on the radio forever. But now that is no longer the case with the one of the host’s dead and the producers shutting down production of the show entirely. It has been my pleasure to hear Car Talk Saturday mornings for the last 15 and a half years of my life It has really been a huge part of my life with me growing up. and graduating from elementary then middle and then high school And now it is definitely time to make room for some new shows You never know what shows NPR will create that they will replace Car Talk with. Could be the next Car Talk. It could also be something similar to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me A Prairie Home Companion or Ask Me Another. Maybe for the most part it could be an alternate quiz show Thanks for the memories Tom And Ray Magliozzi You have taught me everything not only about cars but just about life in general. You have definitely made a huge impact in my life from the time I was little to the time I grew up. There is a time and a season for things. And now it is time to let the show and both of the hosts RIP and look forward to the next generation of programming that NPR is creating. I definitely look forward to seeing what that will be like.

  • Neesa Barker

    I just heard this today while listening to Car Talk and I’m sad. I find this to be my comfort zone on a Saturday morning while drinking my Folgers. Things are changing…..

  • Yes, the calls are about dated vehicles, but guess what, the mechanical problems are quite often the same in modern vehicles.

    A few years ago, when Car Talk was still in production, we were driving into Boston on the Mass Pike on our way to an early Sunday morning visit at the MFA, when another vehicle entered from Rt-128. We were surprised by Tom Magliozzi lunging out of the rear window, obviously trouble shooting a sound from the right rear wheel. We had no idea that someone could hang that far out of a car window.

    We are disappointed in the shows cancellation and wish that an effort was made to have new hosts replace Tom & Ray. We have discussions of national and international politics all day long on NPR/PBS and commercial network news. But, a car is still a major purchase for most of us. Selection and maintenance tips are certainly appreciated.

    Thank you for years of great entertainment and knowledge, Tom & Ray.

    • Brad Deltan

      Yes, why *isn’t* NPR looking to replace Tom & Ray with new hosts? That’s a VERY good question.

      And don’t give me “they’re irreplacable”. That’s nonsense. I’m not saying you can continue doing the exact same show, that’s obvious. But there’s nothing stopping NPR from creating a new call-in show about cars that features two guys who’re strong personalities and really funny. It’s not like there isn’t two dozen commercial radio morning shows that’re more-or-less based on the same concept.

      This isn’t a passive drift. This is an active decision by NPR to not continue the concept of the most successful weekend public radio show ever made. It’s utterly inexplicable and indefensible and heads should be rolling over it.

      • MarkJeffries

        Could it be because the Magliozzi family now owns the show under the name of “Dewey Cheatam and Howe” (look at the copyright on the web site), not WBUR or NPR? They may’ve decided reruns or nothing.

        • Hi Mark, how are you concluding that the Magliozzi family has any ownership?

          • MarkJeffries

            Right off the web site: “Cartalk.com is a production of Tappet Brothers LLC d/b/a Dewey, Cheetham and Howe. Contents © 2017 Tappet Brothers LLC. ” And it seems to me that the credits announcement on-air is “Dewey, Cheetham and Howe in association with WBUR.”

          • Adam Ragusea

            FWIW, Massachusetts corporate registry shows Doug Berman and Ray Magliozzi as the officers of said LLC. But that doesn’t tell us anything about how the ownership of the IP and everything else is distributed among them, WBUR and NPR.

          • Aaron Read

            I don’t have any hard evidence, but the long-time story is that Jane Christo, the former GM of WBUR, decided Car Talk wasn’t all that valuable and let the brothers have ownership of the show way back in the day. Oops. *Allegedly* that was part of the reason why the fight between Christo and Chris Lydon got so acrimonious; Lydon demanded an ownership stake and Christo utterly refused to do that. (that’s a highly oversimplified version of a very complicated story, but I don’t feel like writing a tome to make the over-arching point here)

            Certainly it was “common knowledge” amongst us WBUR lackeys…errr…”staff” :) back in the 90’s that Car Talk was owned directly by the Magliozzi brothers; I wasn’t aware Berman himself might’ve had a direct ownership stake but it wouldn’t surprise me.

            Regardless, I think you’re all splitting Brad’s hairs waaaaay too fine here. NPR doesn’t have to call it “Car Talk” if that’s an intellectual property problem. They can call it whatever they want; nobody…not even the Magliozzis…has the exclusive legal right to a public radio show that has a humorous take on cars and relationships. I think Brad’s right: it’s shameful that NPR hasn’t taken a much more active role in finding/creating a personality-driven show to replace Car Talk on the weekend lineup.

          • Yes, this is accurate, I’m just not sure how you’re concluding from that that the Magliozzi family has ownership.

          • MarkJeffries

            And Adam’s discovery is admittedly the closest we will get to any actual proof, unless the floodgates of financial information open–but I had thought that the Magliozzis had taken over control of the show from WBUR and NPR.

      • Another Mike

        It’s like saying, “why didn’t they replace Bob and Ray?,” or “Why didn’t CBS replace the Smothers Brothers with two other guys named Tom and Dick?” You need a comic duo with chemistry, not just two dudes who know about cars.

        • Brad Deltan

          Okay. So? Are you implying that in all the 300 million people in United States alone, there aren’t two people with good comic chemistry who could also talk about cars?

          And strictly speaking, it doesn’t have to be cars. Cars are good because they’re pretty universal; most people either have a car or have had a car. But any universal topic would work: it could be about computers, or housing, or food. Anything, really, if the structure is done right and you get the right two people to be the hosts. The hook is sort-of irrelevant because the show was really about human relationships and that’s the truly universal topic. The car repair thing was just a clever conceit.

          I’m not saying that’s necessarily an *easy* thing to do, but for an organization with NPR’s resources, it was totally do-able, especially with a five year lead time. Why it hasn’t been done is an utter mystery.

          • MEWSNEWS

            I would love to see the station get into talks with Ray. He and Tom had a real gift which paid off.

            Ray is current, enthusiastic, relevant, and charming with a quick wit to boot.

          • Brad Deltan

            Well that’s a very good point. I think many of us, myself included, have just assumed that Ray couldn’t remain a host because it would be too weird or awkward to try and keep him but replace Tom.

            But while it might be tricky, if not very difficult, it’s not entirely impossible. Of course, it might depend heavily on rights management issues. And while I certainly don’t want to speak for Ray…there’s *probably* something to be said for how if Ray really wanted to keep the show going with a new host, he probably would’ve.

            It would be nice, though, wouldn’t it? :)

  • Jan F Kreider

    NPR is not living in a fact-based world. CarTalk has been a ratings leader for many years. In these days of NPR duress why not respond to this rare, successful history at NPR with a similar show which should have been under development for the past half decade. It’s not too late to create something to replace CT but let the reruns run until then. With the cancellation of Car Talk clearly NPR ratings will drop.