Public radio listeners have had a love affair with Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers (aka Tom and Ray Magliozzi) since Car Talk came on the air nationwide in the 1980s. Except of course for those who hated it. It was not a programming choice that inspired neutral feelings. In any event, the lovers far outnumber the haters, making the show a perennial topper of listener ratings, even now in re-airs, two years after the brothers retired from producing new shows.
The show would seem at first glance an odd pick for public radio, which has a reputation for going badly off the rails whenever it tries to bring the funny. But somehow the combination of banter, listener voices and sometimes maniacal laughter, salted with occasional sound mechanical advice (and perhaps less sound relationship counseling) stuck a chord. And it continues to do so.
I have a theory about why that is. When the show began, we were mostly driving cars built in Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s, cheap old ones, because we were young (or younger) and lots broker.
Public radio listeners needed car advice because we were going out on cold mornings to slide a tray of coals from the woodstove under the oil pan of a giant rust bucket with a dodgy battery in hope that it would fire up one last time and take you to work. We were strapping down Coleman catalytic heaters with bungie cords to the cargo lugs and cracking all the windows, so the van with the shot heat exchangers could defrost enough to clear the windshield. Public radio listeners were reattaching their exhaust systems with coat hangers and wrapping chains around gas tanks that were otherwise attached to the vehicle only by the fill line and the gas line.
Tom and Ray understood. They could gently chide us toward better life choices. And they could make us see the humor in it all. Car culture is American culture, even in these latter days of owning cars that the bank will actually lend you money to buy, and having a relationship with a mechanic such that you don’t even have to know where they put the hood latch.
Tom Magliozzi was a national treasure and I am missing him this morning. Open roads, a clean windshield and a good friend to ride shotgun, Tom.