Thousands, perhaps millions of Americans share a sadness today as we learn that NPR is ending its run of that Saturday morning favorite on National Public Radio, “The Best of Car Talk.” The show began in 2012, when brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi stopped producing new episodes of their popular, laugh-filled program. Some parts of the United States will continue to hear episodes of reruns until September, but in my area, this Saturday’s show will be the last.
Tom died in 2014 at 77 years of age. Few listeners, I would venture, realize that he was an MIT-educated engineer, consultant and college professor with a Ph.D. in marketing. Tom quit his job following a near-fatal car wreck and opened a garage with his brother, Ray. This led to an appearance on a panel of car mechanics on WBUR in Boston. Tom’s upbeat personality, particularly his infectious laugh, charmed the station executives, and before long, the brothers were hosting their own show on NPR.
Utter the words “Click and Clack,” and virtually everyone you meet will respond, “The Tappet Brothers,” which is the way Tom and Ray identified themselves on the air. That label is not the brothers’ only contribution to the popular lexicon. The reach of the universally popular term, “Shameless Commerce Division” is impressive. A quick Google search turns up several screensful of companies and institutions that have adopted the term, among them a home design magazine, legal dictionary, a folk school, air show narration service, philosophy magazine, art print maker, a medical society, music store, petrophysics and well log interpretation, and a writers’ conference, among many others.
How do we put a value on the contributions these guys have made to our American culture, to our lives? I believe that we all harbor a desire to accomplish some good during our time on earth. Tom and Ray certainly have done that. They taught us a whole lot about our cars, if we were paying attention, but they accomplished something more important: They brightened our lives with laughter. Every Saturday morning.