Tom Magliozzi, one of public radio’s most beloved hosts, died on Monday at age 77 due to complications from Alzheimer’s. Along with his brother Ray, he hosted “Car Talk,’’ a weekend programming mainstay on NPR stations across the country.
When the show debuted in 1977, it featured quirky humor, digressive style, and incredibly deep knowledge of auto repair, bringing something new to the often staid and buttoned-down style of most other public radio programming.
Evident throughout Car Talk’s history is just how much the brothers enjoyed their work.
In 1974, Tom and Ray opened up a do-it-yourself auto shop called Hacker’s Haven in Cambridge, but “felt so sorry for most of these DIY wrecks’’ that they ended up doing most of the work themselves. The DIY shop transformed into the Good News Garage, where Ray still works today. The brothers left a note on the site about the Garage’s transformation over the past 40 years:
“We also have the latest test equipment and in the last few years we’ve embraced the 20th century by accepting credit cards and keeping computerized records. Getting our mugs onto Facebook and Twitter means we’ve even dipped our toes into the 21st century.
“Alas, we have not, as of yet, opened a Swiss bank account. (That honesty thing has been a bit of a hinderance.) But, we have nearly 40 years of satisfied customers and have maintained a great staff.’’
Car Talk launched on WBUR to strong ratings, but in a 2005 Boston Globe article, the brothers joked that they were paid pennies ($100 each, per show) by WBUR’s then-General Manager Jane Christo.
Ray: “Jane kept sending our tapes to Washington.’’
Tom: “Yeah, unfortunately they were to the State Department to have us deported.’’
Tom and Ray called themselves “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers’’ after the car mechanic’s term for the sound a malfunctioning valve makes. In a 1988 interview with The Boston Globe magazine, they said the nickname was also a nod to “Clif and Claf,’’ who hosted a Boston sports radio show the brothers listened to in the 1970s. The two MIT engineering grads — Tom in 1958, and Ray in 1973 — always poked fun but never lorded their expertiseover their listeners.
They ended their show the way most other radio shows do, by listing key staff and crew members. But this was “Car Talk,’’ where everything was done a little differently. The end credits swelled with the names and titles of ficticious staffers, like their Russian chauffeur “Pikov Andropov,’’ customer care representative “Haywood Jabuzzoff,’’ and most famously, their law firm, “Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe.’’
The brothers founded their “Dewey, Cheetham & Howe’’ corporation in 1989. You can visit the real third-floor corporate offices of DC&H, above the Curious George store in the heart of Harvard Square, according to the Car Talk website.
In the summer of 1998, Tom and Ray were inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. According to The Boston Globe, their cheeky response to being honored was as follows:
“That’s great! Customers at our garage are going to be really impressed now that they’re being ripped off by hall of famers.’’
In 1999, the brothers delivered the commencement address at MIT. Their memorable speech — which ran twice as long as scheduled — was chock full of the brand of “Click and Clack’’ humor their listeners had come to know and love:
Ray: “Now, my brother and I, L. Ron Magliozzi, are going to help you to achieve nirvana. We’re going to help you to become not smarter. Smarter is no good. That’s the wrong direction. You have spent the last four, five, or six years of your life working on the wrong direction. You are sliding down, as Tom Lehrer says, sliding down the razor blade of life. You are sliding down the happiness curve. You must stop this from happening and you must go in the other direction and we are here to help you. And, as you know, there is a process for reaching nirvana and we are going to give it to you now. It is this: You must repeat the mantra. And the mantra, which happens to be emblazoned on our flag, which stands here — none of you morons will be able to read it because it’s in Latin.’’
Ray: “It says: Non impediti ratione cogitatonis.’’
Tom: “Which, of course, means: Unencumbered by the thought process.’’
In 2012, Car Talk ended its storied 25-year run. The brothers announced the end of an era via a means that didn’t exist when they started their show.
“It’s time to stop and smell the cappuccino,’’ the brothers said.
“The good news is that, despite our general incompetence, we actually remembered to hit the “record’’ button every week for the last 25 years…So we have more than 1,200 programs we’re going to dig into starting this fall, and the series will continue.’’
Tom and Ray both ended the show with the same sign-off: “Don’t drive like my brother.’’ But millions of listeners were just happy to be along for the ride.