"Car Talk." It began in 1977 as a call-in show done pro bono for WBUR in Boston and has grown into an international phenomenon with 4.4 million weekly listeners on 588 radio stations. For those who have never heard "Car Talk," imagine Three Stooges Moe and Shemp with grease stains and master's degrees. Listeners call with various car-related problems, and the boys try their hand at helping them out, with hilarious and surprisingly astute results.
A number of years ago, when a caller described a sickly smell that filled his car every time the air conditioner was switched on, Tom and Ray correctly deduced that the car was kept in a garage, that the owner had a dog, that dog food was stored in a bag near the car, and that mice were storing a cache of dog food in the ventilation system. "Twenty-seven years," says Ray, "one great answer. Pretty good!"
Tom and Ray, known affectionately to their listeners as "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers," have produced six CD collections of their favorite calls. Titles include MEN ARE FROM GM, WOMEN ARE FROM FORD (1997), WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER LISTEN TO YOUR FATHER WHEN IT COMES TO CARS (2002), THE HATCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (2004), and their latest, MATERNAL COMBUSTION (2005).
When AUDIOFILE caught up with the brothers at the offices of Dewey, Cheetham, and Howe at Car Shop Plaza, we asked if they listen to audiobooks. "You mean, in the car?" "No," answered Ray. "In the bathroom. It gives you that nice echo effect if you don't have headphones on." Tom said, "My car has no radio, and no tape recorder. It has no nothin'." All he can listen to is the rumble of the engine. "If he's lucky," said Ray. "I listen to Tony Hillerman's books. Sometimes I find myself in my car getting so engrossed in the narration that I drive into the woods."
"Car Talk" has had a number of celebrity callers over the years, including Morley Safer, Ashley Judd, Daniel Pinkwater, Geena Davis, and Martha Stewart. Ray jumped in, "That was before she, uh, never mind." While the program was initially aimed at do-it-yourself mechanics, callers' questions tend now to be along the lines of "Which car should I get?" and "What is that strange noise?" Increasingly, parents, children, lovers, and spouses call in asking Tom and Ray to settle disagreements about when to use the clutch, change the oil, or fill the gas tank. What has been the most far afield call they've received? Ray responded, "We did get a call from a space shuttle astronaut [John Grunsfeld, who at the time was orbiting 700 miles above Hawaii]. That's pretty far afield." "Yeah, but it's basically the same idea," added Tom. "It's transportation. It's a vehicle."
With their outrageous laughs and boisterous Boston accents, the Magliozzi brothers don't need professional narrators to adapt their work. But out of curiosity, we asked who they'd like to see portraying them if a publisher
wanted to bring in Hollywood personalities. Tom said, "I know who I am. Kramer on 'Seinfeld.' Michael Richards." And Ray? "I could see Robert DeNiro doing me." "Robert DeNiro, huh?" said his brother, skeptically. "Sure," said Ray. "I can do DeNiro, so he ought to be able to do me."--Steven Steinbock