Adios, Car Talk

thelma

It’s over for Car Talk.

The hit public radio show that lived longer than one of its hosts will be no more after next year, Current.org, the public media newspaper reports.

Tom and Ray Magliozzi retired from the show in 2012, and Tom died in November 2014, but NPR and producer WBUR in Boston kept the program alive with reruns, which has led to questions — raised in this space in 2012 — about whether public radio and its audience could successfully birth the kind of programs that catapulted public radio into the mainstream in the ’70s and ’80s. It takes risks to do that and it’s easier taking risks when you don’t have much of an audience, not so much when you’re popular.

The program is still NPR’s most widely carried weekend show by affiliates, according to Current. And why not? Tom and Ray are still funny, even if questions about 1982 Datsuns don’t carry much relevance. Then again, Car Talk was never really about the cars.

It’ll remain a podcast and some stations will continue to carry rebroadcasts, but the show is ending in the most public radio of ways — by not trying to upset anyone.

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.”

In 2012, Ira Glass, host of This American Life, said if public radio is to be true to its mission, it had to drop Car Talk.

Current says cleaning out Car Talk will provide a clear start for NPR’s new director of programming, former MPR program director Steve Nelson. Nobody would want to start a job being the guy who killed “Car Talk.”

  • Matt Black

    I loved Car Talk, but I’m glad this is happening. Public Radio needs to be able to take chances on new programs. Hopefully the stations will be willing to give something new a chance and they’ll strike gold. Odds are there will be a number of failures along the way though and I hope that stations don’t get too gun shy about change.

  • lindblomeagles

    Great show (that, and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me)! It was very funny and a delightful break from the workday and Saturday errands. It will be missed.

    • rallysocks

      Exactly!

    • Al

      Yup, 11-1 is my Saturday errand happy time. It’s perfect.

      And my daughter thinks it’s pretty fun to hear Rusty and Dusty on the radio, Cars fan that she is.

  • jon

    I learned to Drive while listening to Car talk.

    I’d con my dad into taking me out on the weekends, he’d flip on NPR, and I learned to time things out to get car talk over prairie home companion.

    My father was a mechanic for some 30 years… after a problem was described he was diagnose it before the car talk guys finished laughing at their own joke… for general issues he was usually right (and some times when they did their follow up’s (stump the chumps?) he’d be right when the car talk guys were wrong) for specific items related to particular models he was hit or miss (he was a tractor trailer mechanic so he didn’t work on consumer automobiles often).

    Years later when I was still living at home working doing tech support for an IT department my father described an issue with his wifi, and I told him what was wrong and exactly how to fix it without ever looking at or touching his computer… he asked how I did that, I pointed out that he did it all the time with car talk…

    • >>after a problem was described he was diagnose it before the car talk guys finished laughing at their own joke.<<

      I tried to do this when I listened…(car mechanic wannabe)

      As an aside – It was Car Talk that prompted me to become an MPR member way back when…

      • Al

        Same–I was maybe 10 or 12, and signed up for a membership with KAXE just to get little Car Talk fuzzy dice as my thank-you gift. You know, for the car I didn’t have.

  • MrE85

    With all due respect to its new host, I think it’s time to retire PHC, too. #MoveOn

    • From all accounts, the show is getting basically an entire makeover. But your comments makes my point that I articulated in 2012.

      One of the reasons that public media doesn’t take risks, is because the public radio audience won’t let them.

      Chris Thile, from everything I’ve read, is a brilliant MUSICIAN who will stress mUSIC. Keillor was an excellent storyteller who told stories.

      The fact so many people have sworn off Thile’s effort before it even begins pretty much confirms for me what I already had concluded about the public radio audience. It’s time for the Baby Boomers to let go. Of pretty much everything.

      • MrE85

        If us Boomers are going down, we’re taking public radio with us. 😉

        ‘Merica, too.

        • Mike Worcester

          Not going to leave *anything* behind for us Gen-Xers? 😉

          • Just this ’03 Subaru.

          • MrE85

            Just a tank of ethanol and a box of cigars for Bob, who will likely outlive me. 😉

      • mtrphx

        Sigh…PHC needs to retire with Keillor. By all means give Thile HIS show, let’s not force him to be Keillor-Lite. Let him be All-the-Thile he can be and bring it. Says the Baby-Boomer that will see your ’03 Subaru and raise you with a ’98 Infinity Q45. She’s a beauty, ain’t she?

    • John Maddening

      They had the chance to give PHC to John Moe, then give Wits to someone in that crew (preferably Joseph Scrimshaw), but then they cancelled Wits entirely despite sellout shows at the Fitz. Of course, airing a live 2-hour show as a truncated 1-hour show with some f the best bits removed did not help it find a national audience, either.

      Then continuing to have shows like Dinner Party Download, Snap Judgment, and Live Wire (which in its best week is nowhere near the quality of Wits’ worst), and I’m reminded why I rarely listen to MPR anymore outside of local news and Wait Wait.

  • Gordon near Two Harbors

    Car Talk was a masterpiece, and the organic, quirky, down-to-Earth humor of the Magliozzi brothers was the funniest on Public radio, IMO–even if you weren’t into car repair.

  • Jim in RF

    I guess if it has to happen, it has to happen, but I’ll miss it. I really didn’t care that the problems were dated. What was fun was hearing how much fun they were having. I listen to the cooking show too, even though I don’t cook much, because of how into it Lynn gets. Same with the Tuesday night video game show on KFAN — I’ll probably never play another video game but I listen because those guys show so much enthusiasm.

  • Al

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

    https://media.giphy.com/media/l46CCoNzK8DHGPN7y/giphy.gif

  • X.A. Smith

    Finally. I have a real problem with dead people taking jobs from living people who are making new things.

  • PaulJ

    Public radio…. is that an app?

    • Deb Ovall

      NPROne on Android, if you were truly asking. 🙂

  • I have to admit, when i saw that still from T&L, I chuckled a bit.

    Well played.

  • Kevin

    Yes, the programs were dated. Yes, we heard them before. And yes, there are new programs waiting for a chance. But I sure will miss the show. It was an hourly respite from the often depressing and troubling news that we find 24/7. I always arranged my Saturday morning chores to be sure to be in the car, with a coffee, laughing along with the boys. New is not always better, and old can be a sweet comfort. When you do replace CarTalk, please don’t bring us more deeply incisive, oh-so-serious, in-depth discussions. We need a good laugh.

  • Misha

    Car Talk is still so funny and delightful, and yet it does need to be retired. It had its day, and I still have my best-of CD if I need a fix of those crazed Magliozzi laughing fits.

    The thing I can’t understand is WHY in the name of all that is good and holy, can we *still* not escape The Keillor? A year ago or more we heard he was retiring (again), but His Unfunniness still invades the local airwaves for something like six hours every ear-bleeding weekend. I feel badly that Thile will have such a hard row to hoe, trying to revive the dismal dinosaur that PHC devolved into under GK’s apparently never-ending ego trip, I mean writership. If he had stayed mercifully retired the first time, imagine the waves of great new radio that could have blossomed over the last two decades or so. We’ll never get that time back, MPR.

  • lovelessLP

    Really hoping it will stay on the station here. If you have to take it away, please keep airing Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, we need more comedy in these dismal times.

  • Bleecker

    I’m excited about the prospect of the show being available as a podcast, because I’d really like to listen to Car Talk from the first episode to the last and then put it to bed in my mind. It’s been heartbreaking listening to classic shows these past few years, actually, knowing that there will be no new ones. I really miss the constant fatherly advice of Tom and Ray, and their uncle-y digs at people were wonderful too. And I find myself wondering what the Car Talk guys would say about this or that–driverless cars, self-parking cars. I can imagine the belly laughs streaming through the radio now. My one regret is I’ve never needed to own a car since I live in New York City. I always imagined one day I’d be faced with the decision of buying a car and that Tom and Ray would recommend the perfect make and model for me.

    • Deb Ovall

      I’ve been listening to the podcasts for the last 3 months, about 4-5 hours a day since I retired and got back into cross-stitiching. It’s the perfect thing to have on in the background. The website lets you queue up episodes so that they train one right into the other but I’m too lazy tab all the way back to the beginning first so I started with most recent and I’m almost done with 2009. 🙂 So fun!

  • Jeff

    I get so tired of these dead NPR shows like car talk getting air time on the weekends or Keillor’s show getting multiple recasts over the weekend…I can’t stand that sort of show. There is so much good material being created out there now, let’s hear some Invisibilia, Freakonomics, Serial, Code Switch, etc., give some of those shows some rotating airtime.

    • It sounds like you don’t know that Invisibilia just concluded its seven-episode season on MPR. Serial isn’t available as a radio show, Code Switch is not available in radio form (the problem with podcasts is their times don’t fit broadcast clocks even if you could run themon the radio). Reveal, by the way, starts its radio run this weekend.

      The problem gets back to the original article I linked to above. These other programs ARE getting airtime; they’re just not being supported by the listeners.

  • Last week I put a classic Car Talk fix in place when I slapped a piece of black electrical tape over a pesky indicator light on a wireless range extender instead of a “check engine” light. Technology may evolve, but good advice is timeless.

  • Jeff Missinne

    Car Talk is itself like a vintage car; it may be dated, but it’s also timeless as well. It’s classic radio comedy just as Jack Benny was. You couldn’t help but like those mensches with wrenches. The listener had a good time listening to THEM having a good time, and there’s nothing on the air quite like it, then or now.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    We listened to an episode yesterday, and we were in tears. What a pity cancelling this program. I have been a (non pro) mechanic for 40 years (Saab mostly) and the automotive advice is still relevant.

  • mtrphx

    All good things must come to an end…but this one hurts. My son and I grew up together with this show. Father and son, “…you’ve wasted another perfectly good hour….” We’ll miss them very much.

  • tbright1965

    Car Talk is about the only reason I listen to NPR. I get tired of the cheerleading for left leaning causes at the expense of a more equal view of the news. (NPR is no more fair and balanced than Fox News.) Yes, we know Trump is an idiot. Apparently the rules don’t apply to Hillary and I’ve yet to hear anything for Gary Johnson who is polling a solid 10% of us, (me included.)

    I don’t see anything on NPR that is for those of us who are socially liberal, we don’t care what you drink or smoke, or who you sleep with or where you toilet. But many of us are also fiscally conservative. I.E. when you do those things above, don’t create laws that force all of us to pay for it, or bake cakes for it, or whatever.

    So Car Talk was really the only thing bringing me back to NPR, and sadly, it will be gone and we will be bombarded by why everyone should be happy to pay for their neighbor’s birth control or whatever.

    NPR, like our government shouldn’t be liberal nor conservative. It should provide a safe place for people to live out their liberal or conservative beliefs without promotion of either extreme on the spectrum.

    Sadly, it, like everything else these days is partisan, and the non-partisan parts are literally being discarded.

    And yes, I recognize the irony of promoting my LIbertarian bent on the world. I’d like to think we are the non-partisan ones here. We are the ones saying if you want to be liberal, be liberal with your time, talent and treasure, but keep the government out of your plans. LIkewise, if you want to be conservative, be conservative with your time, talent and treasure, and again, keep government out of your plans. The federal government and NPR should simply be neutral observers, reporters and protectors of the space where people can do just that. Live freely, give or not not give freely to their pet causes, and so forth.

    • I’d be interested in what neutrally observing as journalistic organization looks like in the real world.

      • tbright1965

        I think it would be one that champions freedoms, not programs. I.E. when something like the ACA comes around, it would point out that by making a law saying you must buy this product or another that is approved by some bureau in DC, is a blow to freedom.

        Instead of getting all excited that the government is going to take money from one group (deny them the freedom to spend the fruits of their labor as they see fit) and give it to another group (forced to buy a product called affordable, named by people who apparently don’t know the meaning of the word) they would not be cheering for either side of the debate.

        I recall back in the 1990’s when Bill Clinton was president and “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was the proposed policy. Whatever program was playing (don’t recall) on my car radio in the morning had Dr So-and-so on one side saying how great DADT was. To balance this, on the other, was Pvt Schmedlap, obviously not in possession of a doctorate of anything.

        Yeah, that’s fair and balanced.

        I could care less about the sexual orientation of anyone. But I do care about balanced media coverage and getting persons of similar qualifications on a topic to speak and to give each view the same chance to present without the moderator imposing his/her view to direct the discussion.

        Oh, and call out some of these insanely named bills such as Affordable Care Act. I’d think anyone with a high school diploma would realize that if you need money from someone else to buy something, like a subsidy for an insurance policy, it’s not really affordable to the clients buying the good or service.

        I’d be interested to learn if NPR or MPR spent as much time on the GOP gaff last week regarding the lapel pin as it did on the DNC gaffs using Soviet Ships in a slide deck or video at the 2012 convention or using Polish veterans in a DNC appeal to veterans.

        Or maybe they didn’t even cover it at all, any of it.

        A quick google search using site:npr.org and looking for DNC Polish Army Veterans returns nothing, but a similar search site:npr.org looking for DNC lapel pin does net results. Why not cover both gaffs?

        • How can you be both “neutral” and at the time “champion” something?

          • tbright1965

            Isn’t freedom neutral? Unless you are saying there is a case to be made that we should deny adults freedom to freely engage in behaviors or beliefs that do not harm others?

          • I’m pretty confused. Freedom has, obviously , different definitions. You obviously favor an approach to how it should be defined in the country and believe it’s not currently. That’s cool.

            You want the media to embrace that definition yet remain neutral as a matter of approach to journalism. I’m not seeing the logic in how that is accomplished in a practical sense.

            For the record, no, I don’t believe in either neutrality or objectivity, nor do I believe those are sound principles of journalism.

          • tbright1965

            Does freedom really have different definitions, or merely different facets?

            When I look at the myriad defintions on dictionary.com for the word freedom, I simply see those facets.

            We are to be free from a despotic government. I think the last one sums it up, “the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint from within or without; autonomy; self-determination.”

            If you are saying a news organization cannot or should not be neutral or objective, I’m not sure I can agree. It can if the leadership wants it to be.

            Now one might argue should it. Let’s take the extreme case of a despot in power. If that leader is killing others, then yes, speak out, as the leader is depriving those he/she kills of their very lives. Here is an example where you are defending freedom by pointing out when the leader is infringing on the rights of another.

            But a case such as the government funding something that is controversial to some of the population. I see that as the government stepping on the freedom of the taxpayer who may not want to support such an endeavor.

            If a group of citizens want to gather their time, talent and treasure from like minded individuals to support their cause, I’m all for it. If another group doesn’t want to support their cause, they should have just as much freedom to say no, we want to support a different cause, or try a different means of accomplishing the objective.

            But I really see government to be the one that should ensure that both groups have a space where they can exercise their freedom to participate or not, as they see fit.

            Again, ditto for the news. If the government is stepping in and putting it’s thumb on the scale, suggesting we should use the conservative or the liberal solution, then I think the media should point this out.

            I really think this is much of the great divide today. We have a select few, who think they know best for all. They may be right or they may be wrong. Or even both. It may work where they live, but doesn’t work in the plains of Kansas.

            I think we see the backlash today in the current election. Look at the popularity of Trump and Sanders. There is a segment of the population who are not accepting what the two major parties have been telling them. Nor are they accepting what the media is telling them.

            Look at the rise of alternative media. Much of the mainstream media is not trusted by folks on the left or the right. They each claim the media has a bias and can’t be trusted.

            Can someone who isn’t enamored with either major party find a news source that isn’t in the bag for one party or the other?

            If a news source is in the bag for one party or another, will they simply bury the scandal if their team is believed to be behaving badly?

            Or do the ends justify the means? If you are getting enough of what you want from government, is it ok to let go of those unflattering stories?

            I don’t know what the answer is, and I realize that it’s hard for individuals to be objective.

            I’d like to think that gathering in our respective left-leaning or right-leaning conclaves isn’t going to help.

            It’s the political equivalent of racially dividing neighborhoods. When people don’t really interact with one another, you just end up with a more divided populace. I don’t think it really matters if the divisions are political, racial, gender based, or any other artificial division.

            I’d like to think that even if we the people disagree on how to do things, we could all come together and defend one another’s freedoms.

            If we don’t, there are people who are experts at buying voter’s votes with their own taxes. Doesn’t matter which party, left or right, they are both adept at creating a crisis and then selling the idea that only their team, under their leadership is able to solve the problem.

            When they get elected, their solutions are often imposed on we the people, even when many of us don’t want it.

            We are not given the freedom to say, no thanks, I don’t want to participate in your society saving vision. I have my own vision on how to do that, so let me go to work on what I believe works best in my corner of the world.

            For example, Social Security. It was something devised before I was born. When it was envisioned, there were over 16 workers paying for every benefits recipient. Last time I looked in the past year or two, that figure was 2.9 workers for every recipient. When I retire, it will be closer to 2 if not even lower.

            I don’t think the program was well designed. So why can’t I say no, I don’t want to participate. Don’t take 6.2% of my paycheck and another 6.2% from my employer for your program. Let me decide how I want to employ that money for my future. It’s not your job DC to plan my retirement or save on my behalf for a rainy day.

            Give me the freedom to play or not play as I see fit.

            If the program is a great deal, it should sell on it’s own without a law that say I must participate.

            That’s just one example. That is essentially hour out of every eight going to a program I don’t believe is the role of the government. The freedom to save those funds as I see fit was taken because someone thought their plan was in my best interest before I was even born.

            I’d not deny anyone the right to participate if they thought it was in their best interests. But there are plenty who would deny me the right to NOT participate. Nope, they want to have the freedom to determine what is done with that combined 12.4% of my income. They don’t wish to allow me the freedom to decide.

            Am I saying we shouldn’t pay taxes. Of course not. We need roads, bridges, police, fire, defense, etc.

            But I do question the bulk of the taxes I pay going to DC, only to be up for grabs depending on if your guy or gal in congress can bring it back to the district.

            I’m way out here, and it’s unlikely we’ll see eye to eye.

            However, just consider that I really don’t want to take away yours or anyone’s freedoms.

            What I wonder is why so many want their team, be it team red or team blue, to take my freedoms.

            Or should I be sad that people don’t see it as just that, a diminution of freedom.

            Bringing to back around to CarTalk. I see CarTalk as the last place where NPR allows someone to be wrong 🙂

            Now it’s just becoming a place where you have to tow the party line. If you are not in favor of the latest feel good program you must hate people, be less intelligent, be selfish, or any other label both the extreme left and the extreme right seem all too willing to paint on those with whom they disagree.

            Wow, what a long and probably rambling rant 🙂

  • Thanks for the link! I should point out that my article actually says that “Best of Car Talk” is NPR’s most widely carried weekend show — AFTER the news shows and “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”

  • Bob

    Its a great show and I listen to it every Saturday, I don’t notice its a repeat, but they need a quality replacement. I don’t see anything in the line up which is sad.

    NPR reminds me of my mothers old ladies magazines from the 50s and 60s. Always something about food, always something about music, always something about women overcoming odds and succeeding and children. OK there is that sports guy on weekends, then there is about 10 minutes of news an hour. They wouldn’t risk car talk today. Pity.

  • Jim Longo

    Never had more than a learner’s permit, haven’t driven in over 30 years, and I still lived for Car Talk on Saturday mornings.

  • Brian Applegate

    I always had to work on Saturday mornings, so I’d wear earphones and listen to the show. My frequent Outbursts of laughter would always catch someone’s attention. Over the years my friends learned why I was laughing and became fans themselves. I hope NPR can find a worthy replacement, but that’s probably just wishful thinking. Thanks for all the laughs, and all the learning.

  • Christine Raso

    I’m be terribly disappointed if Ira Glass really said that.