‘Just a Couple of Jamokes’ | A Tribute to Car Talk‘s Rollicking 40-Year Run

An appreciation of Car Talk’s four decades of good advice, bad jokes, and living by the motto non impediti ratione cogitationis.

By Jenn Johnson

Oct 17 2017

Photo Credit : Richard Howard/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Tune in to any NPR pledge drive and you’re bound to hear some mention of “family”—as in, “our listening family,” “the public radio family.” But truth is, no on-air personalities could ever seem more like actual family than longtime Car Talk hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi. They were the garrulous uncles at the dinner table: teasing their wives, trading stories, telling jokes that would make a fifth-grader groan—and, most of all, arguing about cars.

car talk history
Car Talk hosts Ray, left, and Tom Magliozzi in 1989, two years after the WBUR-produced show went national. “Stations turned to us in droves–much in the same way that lemmings flock to the sea,” the brothers once joked.
Photo Credit : Richard Howard/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Born into a tight-knit Italian clan in East Cambridge, Massachusetts, the brothers were running a local auto repair shop in 1977 when an invitation from radio station WBUR to join a car advice panel led to their getting a weekly call-in show of their own. While Tom and Ray did give serious advice, it usually took a back seat to their quips (“If it falls off, it doesn’t matter,” “Life is too short to own a German car”) and frequent outbreaks of guffawing. Good-natured at heart, their humor had a distinctly Boston bite: Any caller could be razzed as a cheapskate or a knucklehead; any theory could be dismissed as bo-o-o-o-o-gus!

Car Talk became one of public radio’s most popular programs, drawing more than four million listeners at its peak; it also spawned books, audio compilations, a syndicated newspaper column, and even a PBS cartoon. The success may have surprised no one more than Tom and Ray themselves: In 1996 they accepted broadcasting’s prestigious Peabody Award with the disclaimer, from Tom, that “we’re just a couple of jamokes.”

The brothers retired in 2012 and, sadly, Tom passed away two years later, at age 77. Though the show still lives on via podcast, this September NPR ended production on its weekly Best of Car Talk broadcasts—leaving millions of radio listeners to find a new way to, as Tom and Ray would put it, “squander another perfectly good hour.” 

SEE MORE: The Big Question | Click and Clack from Car Talk