Magliozzi’s Alzheimer’s Diagnosis His Worst
Tom Magliozzi died of Alzheimer’s disease this week. A car-repair expert who with his brother Ray brought a fun sense of humor to public radio with their “Car Talk” show that combined sibling-razzing wisecracks with savant-like mechanical diagnostics. NPR announced his death and said the cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
The Magliozzis, graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, were owners of the Good News Garage in Cambridge, Mass., when they debuted their talk-radio show in 1977 on WBUR in Boston.
NPR began syndicating the show a decade later, broadening public radio beyond its regular offerings of politics and current-affairs programming.
Explaining the program’s appeal, one broadcast executive told Rolling Stone magazine, “Even our classical stations are picking the show up, though Vivaldi and ‘Car Talk’ don’t seem to go together. . . . It’s just a phenomenon.”
By 2005, the Magliozzis — who called themselves “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers,” or else “Fender Face” and “Piston Puss.” The brothers drew 4.7 million listeners a week on about 600 radio stations.
They also had a syndicated newspaper column, offering tips to those who viewed their cars as the offspring of Stephen King’s possessed vehicle Christine. The arcana of engine and auto-body maintenance intimidates many drivers, but the Magliozzis captivated listeners by demystifying, debunking and plain disrespecting the work of the profession’s gatekeepers, from the blowhard garage mechanic to the boardroom executives of Detroit. Tom Magliozzi once held up the Chevrolet minivan for ridicule, questioning why it needed so many cup-holders.
“That’s one area where General Motors has excelled,” he said. “When people talk about the Japanese being ahead of us, they don’t hold a patch to us in cup holders.”
With their thick Boston accents and naughty-boy cackling, the Magliozzi brothers brought an earthy, blue-collar appeal that is not generally regarded as a hallmark of public radio. They teased their executive producer, crediting him as Doug “the subway fugitive, not a slave to fashion, bongo boy frogman” Berman. They signed off their program with the warning, “Don’t drive like my brother.”
The hosts seemed to relish opportunities to mimic the groans, bangs and murmurs of car trouble. Mostly, they offered listeners what a mysterious rattle likely meant and tips on how not to get cowed or ripped off by body-shop personnel.