'We Have Learned Absolutely Nothing': Tom Magliozzi On Decades Of 'Car Talk' "People say, 'Tell us about radio!' " Magliozzi told Fresh Air in 2001. "We have no idea. We sit in front of the microphones and we know nothing about radio." The Car Talk co-host died Monday at 77.
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'We Have Learned Absolutely Nothing': Tom Magliozzi On Decades Of 'Car Talk'

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'We Have Learned Absolutely Nothing': Tom Magliozzi On Decades Of 'Car Talk'

'We Have Learned Absolutely Nothing': Tom Magliozzi On Decades Of 'Car Talk'

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Tom Magliozzi, the beloved public radio host, died yesterday of complications related to Alzheimer's disease. He was 77. Tom and his younger brother, Ray, were the hosts of NPR's Car Talk, which is still broadcast in an archival version.

Car Talk is popular for the car repair advice the brothers dispense, but perhaps even more popular for their comedic banter. In fact, many people tune in who don't even own a car but just love listening to the brothers.

Ray, who was 12 years younger than Tom, wrote this on the Car Talk website - (reading) we can be happy that Tom lived the life he wanted to live, goofing off a lot, talking to you guys every week and primarily laughing his ass off.

We're going to listen back to an interview I recorded with Tom and Ray in 2001. But first, we're going to hear from Doug Berman, who has been the executive producer of Car Talk since it began on NPR in 1987. He also created NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!. When I spoke with Doug this morning, we started by playing back this clip from Car Talk, where Tom offers a bit of his philosophy.


TOM MAGLIOZZI: I have my own law of marriage, and it's - it is more important to be happy than to be right. Now, you may know that you're right. I mean, I'm always right. Whenever my wife and I have an argument, I'm always right. But being the clever fellow that I am, I never tried to prove to her that I'm right. And she thinks that I'm a dummy because I'm always wrong. But she loves me.


RAY MAGLIOZZI: Well, I'll tell you, everyone else thinks you're a dummy too, to let you in on a little secret.

T. MAGLIOZZI: But as long as I know that I'm always right, I don't have to tell her that.

GROSS: Doug Berman, thank you for talking with us. I'm so sorry for your loss.

DOUG BERMAN, BYLINE: Thank you, Terry. It's nice to be here.

GROSS: You know, as the longtime producer of Car Talk, when you were making a suggestion to Tom, was he right or was he happy in his interaction with you?

BERMAN: (Laughter) It didn't matter. He was pretty uncompromising. He had a real anti-authority streak, but he did it in such a funny, nice way, you know? He hated to be told what to do. He hated to be told what to think. He, you know - he sort of carefully challenged everything.

GROSS: So were you the authority figure - the sometimes bad guy in the situation?

BERMAN: Well, I quickly learned not to be, you know. You know, I tried a couple times early on, and then I - then I ended up kind of just cajoling, you know, which worked a lot better.

GROSS: So as we can hear an example of in that clip, Tom was famous for his laugh. Did it make him self-conscious when people told him how much they loved his laugh?

BERMAN: Not at all. He laughed. I mean, it was almost a force almost separate from him. It just - it was always lurking trying to come out, and, you know, he would see something funny coming, you know, a few sentences away, and he would start to laugh while he was talking. But, you know, the unique thing about him is that, you know, his view of the world was really, really positive. You know, and I think whether listeners could articulate that or not, I think they recognize that this was a guy who was pulling everyone up rather than taking everyone down. He just laughed very easily and found humor in everything.

GROSS: So Tom died of complications from Alzheimer's.


GROSS: As his producer, did you see signs of memory loss or confusion before you knew the diagnosis?

BERMAN: Yeah. Yeah. And he knew did, too. And that's why we stopped recording shows in 2012. You know, he felt that he just wasn't what he used to be. And, you know, he had such an incredible mind that it was really difficult for him, you know?

GROSS: So when the show went into reruns, it wasn't mentioned that he was having - that Tom was having cognitive problems. Did he and the family want to keep that quiet?

BERMAN: Yeah, I guess so. You know, it wasn't - it wasn't an explicit decision. But nobody said, you know, let's talk about this, I think. I think we just respected his privacy, you know?

GROSS: Was Tom still kind of laughing and funny and with a positive outlook even as he was losing his memory?

BERMAN: Yeah, he still laughed. I went and saw him just last week. And I walked in, and he gave me - I can't describe it - but he gives you this look where he sort of looks startled for a second, like it's a surprised look to see you, but it's a joke, you know? And I did the same thing back to him, and he laughed, you know? So it was still there.

GROSS: That's nice to hear. So you worked with Tom and with Ray. How would you describe the difference between the two brothers? Because we know them - we the listeners know them...

BERMAN: Yeah, they're a team.

GROSS: ...As this, like, unit - this like impossible to untangle unit...

BERMAN: Sharing one brain.

GROSS: Yeah.

BERMAN: Yeah, they are different. I mean, they're certainly well-matched. But Tom is the guy who goes off on the tangents. You know, he's the philosopher. He's the creative science. He's looking for correlations, connections, deductions all the time. You know, he's the one who comes up with theories. He's, you know, a real original thinker, not at all inhibited by convention or whether something is possible or not. And Ray we often referred to as the voice of reason in comparison. You know, Ray sort of represents reality, and Ray represents, you know, what can be and what's possible. And that was how they played off each other.

GROSS: So we're about to hear an interview I recorded with Tom and Ray Magliozzi in 2001, and it's only now that I found out about something that wasn't in that interview. I had asked them how they started their first garage, and Tom said, well, he quit his job and was collecting unemployment insurance and came up with this idea. He neglected to tell me about this car crash that actually changed his life. Can you give us a brief description, Doug, of what happened?

BERMAN: Yeah, he was - he was in his 20s. He had a 9-to-5 job that, you know, he wasn't crazy about. He was driving on, you know, a crowded Boston highway in a little, tiny, cheap car, which is typical of him. And he had a near miss with a truck. And, you know, it shook him up, and he went to work. And he walked in, and he quit. And he said if, I had died, I'd be really pissed because...

GROSS: So he wasn't hit, it was a near miss? It was...

BERMAN: Yeah, it was a near miss. He just, you know, escaped an accident.

GROSS: Right, OK.

BERMAN: But it came close enough that it made him think that it's time to do what I want to do.

GROSS: You were their executive producer right from the start from 1987 when it became an NPR show. Before that it was a local show on WBUR. And then it was a regular feature on Susan Stamberg's show when she was the host of Weekend Edition. So when you took over the show. I mean, it was your job to make it into great radio. At the same time, you wanted them, I'm sure, to sound like themselves because that was part of the key to the show's success, that they just sounded so authentic - authentically themselves - so what advice did you give them, though, about how to change things to make it into a great national weekly show?

BERMAN: (Laughter) Well, first of all, I think, you know - I think it's important to note that the show developed through a very carefully honed strategy of benign neglect.

GROSS: (Laughter) That sounds right in the Magliozzi spirit.

BERMAN: It was a strategic decision to ignore them for 10 years locally. So, you know, for the first 10 years, nobody paid any attention to them. And they sort of learned to broadcast as if no one was listening, which I think, you know, is what - you know, how their sound came to be. They relaxed and became, you know, completely and utterly themselves as if no one, you know, no one else was there. And there were no broadcast rules. You know, no one telling them how to speak or what to do and that's what became Car Talk, you know.

When I came in, you know, it was simply - to me it was a matter of, you know, of formatting it in a way where it moved a little faster and the tangents didn't go on as long. But rather than give them advice, you know, what I decided to do was simply record a lot of them and then edit it after the fact and simply take the best of what they did. I would, you know - I would speak to them, you know, through - we have a talkback system so I can speak into their ears while they're - you know, while they're on the air. And I would, you know - I would ask for things that I felt like I needed to have in order to edit, you know? If something wasn't clear, if there was a piece of information missing, I would say, you know, explain this or I'd say, you know, ask the person about this, you know. You know, so we'd have everything we need to make a coherent narrative, you know, of each call. But really - really it was - you know, the genius was theirs. They did their thing. And, you know, they were just amazing guys and brilliant guys. And my job was just to sort of, you know, to facilitate it and then, you know, edit it into a show every week.

GROSS: Doug Berman has been the executive producer of Car Talk since it started as an NPR program in 1987. We'll hear more from him later as we continue our remembrance of Tom Magliozzi, who died yesterday at the age of 77. We'll listen back to my 2001 interview with Tom and Ray Magliozzi after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. We're remembering Tom Magliozzi, who died yesterday at the age of 77 of complications related to Alzheimer's. Tom and his brother, Ray, hosted Car Talk, which has been a popular NPR show since 1987. We're going to listen back to the interview Tom and Ray recorded on FRESH AIR in 2001. Tom was 12 years older than Ray. They each graduated from MIT. After Tom got his degree in chemical engineering, he worked in the marketing department of a corporation speculating about future trends. After narrowly escaping a crash with a tractor-trailer, he quit his job, abandoned the corporate life and collected unemployment insurance. Ray moved to Vermont after graduating from MIT and taught at a middle school. Ray told me that his mother urged him to try and rescue Tom from his lay-about life. So Ray returned to Boston, and Tom came up with the idea of starting a garage.


T. MAGLIOZZI: See, that was one of the things I had come up with when I was sitting at this company. Speculating about the future - I had my feet up on the desk, and I put together all the different trends that I could see. And I said, you know what would be a great idea? A place where you could fix your own car and people would have the tools for you. They'd have a lift you could put your car up on - all the tools that you would never buy yourself 'cause you'd only needed them once. And they would have a roof over your head and someone to advise you. I said, what a great idea. And then I quit my job and went - became a bum (laughter) and promptly forgot all about it.

GROSS: Now, when you started the do-it-yourself garage, it seems to me that time must've really been right for that 'cause, for example, like in 1970 - I think you started the garage in '73 and around 1970, I was tuning up my own car. I mean, that's how - that's how much people were into do-it-yourself (laughter) mechanics. That short-lived period of my life.

R. MAGLIOZZI: It was really an idea whose time had come. And it was...

T. MAGLIOZZI: Unfortunately, it didn't stay.

R. MAGLIOZZI: It was one of those things that you couldn't make any money at it. You know, it was a great concept, and we have never had as many laughs as we had the year that we (laughter) - that we opened that garage. I don't think I've ever had as many laughs as I had that year.

T. MAGLIOZZI: No, we had a rollicking good time.

GROSS: What kind of laughs?

T. MAGLIOZZI: Belly laughs because we attracted every kind of inept weirdo that the city of Cambridge and the surrounding towns had to offer.

R. MAGLIOZZI: Yeah. And there were - there was no shortage.

T. MAGLIOZZI: There was no shortage. And I was amazed to find out how many whackos inhabited our fair city and those who came in, who thought they knew what they were doing and didn't, really expected us to do the work for them for $2.50 an hour, or whatever we were charging them. And we soon realized that we were doing all the work for everybody, running around like nuts, doing everyone's work while they were standing there, paying $2.50 an hour, having professionals work on their cars. It even got so bad that we had to hire extra people (laughter) to help out and well, we did make some money during the days before every major holiday. It was pretty much a bust.


T. MAGLIOZZI: And then we hadn't figured out that the good people of Cambridge were going to steal our tools and then all that so...

GROSS: Oh, did they do that?

R. MAGLIOZZI: Well, yeah. And - but what really drove us out of business was the fact that in 1973, fixing one's own car was within the grasp of the average person. But as mission controls came into being and cars got more complicated, it soon disappeared - that ability soon disappeared. And we found that the business diminished considerably. And people in Cambridge who had had the time because they were unemployed bums, like my brother, to work on their own cars, went out and got jobs and bought newer cars and fortunately, you know, took them to us to get them serviced.

T. MAGLIOZZI: But it's interesting how much fun the bums could be. I mean, these were complete whackos, weirdos as my brother said. He's absolutely right. But man were they fun. And they weren't worried, you know, when the guy jacked up his Lincoln Town Car and drove the floor jack through his oil can, did he cry? He just - he said, uh oh (laughter). I mean, people could take a joke. And people were not as uptight as they are now. You know, it was only a car.

R. MAGLIOZZI: And what was really sort of spiritual about it was that nobody ever got hurt. I mean, in all the years that we did that, with complete rank amateurs using very dangerous equipment.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Oh, like acetylene torches.

R. MAGLIOZZI: Oh, man. I mean.

T. MAGLIOZZI: We didn't know - we really didn't know any better either. Yeah, you want to use the torch? Yeah, go ahead. We'll be standing on the other side of the brick wall while you do it.

R. MAGLIOZZI: Wear this football helmet (laughter). Call us if anything happens. We're going out for coffee.

GROSS: So when the do-it-yourself concept failed financially, why did you start a real garage after that?

R. MAGLIOZZI: Well, because we had had a real garage, too, in the same building.

T. MAGLIOZZI: It was a garage. It was sort of a gradual transition. You know, in the beginning everyone, all the customers were doing the work themselves ostensibly. And little by little ,we found ourselves doing more and more of it. And then people would come and say, gee, you know, I really can't do this myself. Would you guys do it? So we had professionals working side-by-side with amateurs. And it just so happened that the amateurs began to disappear, and the cars increased in number. And so it became just a plain, old repair shop when all those crazy weirdos got jobs, I guess. I don't know where they are.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Yeah. Some of them got sent back to the mothership.




GROSS: Tom, were you doing mechanical work yourself?

T. MAGLIOZZI: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.


R. MAGLIOZZI: Oh, for many years he did.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Many years. I stopped doing it many years ago because it was much too much like work.


T. MAGLIOZZI: And I - I've been trying all my life to avoid, you know, real work. And that was, I mean - in the beginning it was just so much fun that I didn't realize it was work. We were literally putting in 12-14 hour days. And these were hard, hard days. I mean, I remember going home, plopping on the bed, falling asleep, waking up the next morning and dragging myself back to the shop. And...

R. MAGLIOZZI: Yeah. There weren't many days spent with your feet up on the desk.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Oh, man.

R. MAGLIOZZI: But it was fun.

GROSS: When you guys started your garage, were your parents ever embarrassed to say, my sons are mechanics, as opposed to being able to say, my sons are teachers. My son is a marketing consultant.

R. MAGLIOZZI: They hung their heads in shame.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Well, they didn't really hang their heads in shame, I don't think. They just kept shaking their heads, like, what are you guys doing?

GROSS: Yeah. We should mention you're both graduates of MIT.



R. MAGLIOZZI: Dad worked his fingers to the bone to send us there.


R. MAGLIOZZI: And when we told them that we were opening up an auto repair shop, their hearts sank.

GROSS: Now the first time you were on the radio, I think, was for a panel discussion on cars on WBUR of Boston, an NPR affiliate. Were you relaxed that first time on radio? Did you feel like you sounded and behaved like yourselves?

T. MAGLIOZZI: Yeah, I think so, only because we didn't know that it was a real radio station. I mean, it's part of Boston University. And at the time, the studios, I mean, you'd think it was like 1920 and...

R. MAGLIOZZI: The equipment resembled the tin cans and the strings.

GROSS: Right.

R. MAGLIOZZI: It was this kid's.

T. MAGLIOZZI: And you would expect Marconi to walk by any minute.


T. MAGLIOZZI: And so our assumption was, you know, first of all, who's listening to this station? And we thought it was a station that only broadcasts, like, on wires within the school, within BU.

R. MAGLIOZZI: Well, we thought it had, you know, 50 watt capacity, and then we found it had 50,000 watt something.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Well, when they turned on the microphones, the lights dimmed.


T. MAGLIOZZI: So, yeah, we were - I think we were pretty relaxed.

GROSS: When you started doing your own show on WBUR before the show was national, back in the early days when you're first starting, how did you sound compared to how you sound now do you think?

R. MAGLIOZZI: Well, it sounded surprisingly like the new shows do.

T. MAGLIOZZI: (Laughter) It did?

R. MAGLIOZZI: Yeah. I mean, we tended to - if we got someone on the line who we thought was interesting, we tended to talk to that person for whatever period of time we thought was appropriate, sometimes 25 minutes.

T. MAGLIOZZI: (Laughter).

R. MAGLIOZZI: And our producer Doug Berman would never allow that now. He's giving us the cut sign and waving his hands and jumping up and down if we go to more than five or six minutes. He gets nervous. But other than that, I would say the show was pretty much the same.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Really? Which begs the question, why do we need Berman?


T. MAGLIOZZI: A timer would do, wouldn't it?

R. MAGLIOZZI: I've been asking that question from day one.

GROSS: Tom and Ray Magliozzi recorded in 2001. We'll hear more of that interview in the second half of the show as we continue our tribute to Tom, who died yesterday at the age of 77. And we'll hear more from Car Talk's executive producer, Doug Berman. Here's another clip from Car Talk. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


T. MAGLIOZZI: Dr. Marhes Muhnes (ph) told the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology that about two dozen cases (laughter)...

R. MAGLIOZZI: Of spontaneous French occur every year (laughter).

Come on. Snap out of it, will you? You're on National Public Radio. Get a hold of yourself, boy.

T. MAGLIOZZI: That's too good.


T. MAGLIOZZI: I can't see anyone.

R. MAGLIOZZI: Come on, you can do it. You started it, you finish it.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Two dozen cases of - foreign accents - foreign accent syndrome.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Our show today is a tribute to Tom Magliozzi, who died yesterday at the age of 77 of complications related to Alzheimer's disease. Tom and his younger brother, Ray, were the hosts of NPR's Car Talk, which is still broadcast in an archival version. The brothers gave car advice on the show, but the show also became famous for the brothers' comedic banter and philosophical asides. Before they got their start on radio, Tom and Ray opened the Car Repair Garage, which is still operating and is owned by Ray. Let's get back to the interview I recorded with Tom and Ray in 2001. We'll pick up where we left off, in the middle of a laugh.

When you started on radio, did anyone ever say to you, Tom, Ray, you're laughing too much? You know, you have to be more serious. Tone it down.

R. MAGLIOZZI: No one ever told us anything. We - until maybe a week ago, we would walk into the studio and say, are we on? I mean, we had absolutely no information. We had - we knew the room we would go to, we knew where to sit, and that was it. And that's pretty much the same.

T. MAGLIOZZI: And the only reason we knew that is there was a show on the hour before us, called Shop Talk, which was two or three guys talking about stereo equipment.


T. MAGLIOZZI: And, you know, recording and the like. And we would watch them through the class, and we would see how far away from the microphone they sat, and we'd notice that they wore headphones. And we noticed that they pressed the lighted buttons on the phone to talk to callers. And so we patterned ourselves after what they did.

R. MAGLIOZZI: And I'm proud to say that after 23 or 24 years on the radio, we have learned absolutely nothing. No, but it's absolutely the truth. I mean, people say, tell us about radio. We have no idea. We sit in front of the microphones here - we know nothing about radio - nothing.

T. MAGLIOZZI: We've never made any attempt to learn anything either. And we do laugh a lot - too much sometimes, and I'm sure people complain.

R. MAGLIOZZI: Oh, plenty. And there are many people who can't stand us, because...

T. MAGLIOZZI: My wife is one of them.

R. MAGLIOZZI: My brother laughs so much - right. Well, that goes without saying - which wife?

T. MAGLIOZZI: All of all of them.

GROSS: So when you started doing the radio show, did it change the business at the garage? Were more customers coming? Did they treat you differently 'cause you were on the radio?

R. MAGLIOZZI: Well, one of the reasons that we did the radio show - we did it - when they asked us to continue doing it, we did it for no money. And why would we do that? And the only reason we did it was we were able to mention the name of our garage on the air. And that was the only reason we did it. And we did it until like a month ago for no money. As long as we could mention the name of the garage.

GROSS: That's a real long month - that month ago.

R. MAGLIOZZI: Yeah. So we mentioned the name of the garage, and yes business did pick up because people had heard of us.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Well, that was the reason we had initiated the puzzler on the show because we asked people to send the answers to the puzzler to the garage.

R. MAGLIOZZI: Yeah, because they told us we could not pug the garage, so we devised this clever scheme of a puzzler. And then we said, and if you have an answer to the puzzler, with which, if you win you could win a free oil change, mail it to - and we gave the name and address of the garage.

GROSS: So you still have the garage. Ray, you still manage the garage. Tom, you don't really work at the garage anymore so...

T. MAGLIOZZI: I don't work at the garage . I decided it that it was too much work and I...

R. MAGLIOZZI: Plus we have a restraining order.


T. MAGLIOZZI: I think it's 500 feet now. I can't go within 500 feet of the garage.

GROSS: How have you each like, over the years, having responsibility for a business - from making sure you make a profit, making sure the customers are treated OK, for having responsibility for employees?

R. MAGLIOZZI: Oh, I hate it. It's incredibly stressful.

T. MAGLIOZZI: That's part of the reason I left. It was horrible. No, it was horrible. I mean, we had to fire a guy once and it broke my heart really. Leo.


T. MAGLIOZZI: I'm mean. He was our buddy. And he was such a screw-up, it was unbelievable. And he was someone reliable. It was hopeless. And he even said - he came in one day and said, I want you to fire me, and we couldn't do it 'cause he was our pal. And Jerry, same thing.

R. MAGLIOZZI: Yeah, it's tough.

T. MAGLIOZZI: It's horrible.

R. MAGLIOZZI: And it's tougher, however, I think, having responsibility for the customers cars because you're responsible - well, first of all you're responsible for people's safety. You have to make sure you put all the pieces back, and their wheels don't fall off, and their brakes work.

T. MAGLIOZZI: I was just laughing at the memory of the one that you took real good care of - the one, the Nissan.

R. MAGLIOZZI: Oh. (Laughter)

T. MAGLIOZZI: The one that took the plunge.

R. MAGLIOZZI: I did have a car fall of the lift...

T. MAGLIOZZI: (Laughter).

GROSS: Oh, God.

R. MAGLIOZZI: ...One day, I don't know how it happened.

T. MAGLIOZZI: That's every mechanic's nightmare.

R. MAGLIOZZI: And the guys at the shop have never, ever, let me forget it. Every time a Nissan comes in, they asked me would you like us to put this thing up on the live free or do you think you can handle?

GROSS: How loud was it when it fell off the lift?

R. MAGLIOZZI: It was so loud that people from every surrounding building came running over to see what had happened. And I stood there and laughed, and laughed. And the reason I laughed is, but for a few seconds, I would've been under this car when it fell off the lift, because I walked over to my toolbox in a wrench and as I turned around I noticed that the car was at a peculiar angle and no longer parallel to the floor. And I said, hmm, and I didn't have much time to think about it. And six feet to zero is very - happens very quickly. And within a wink of an eye this car was on its side.

T. MAGLIOZZI: What did you say to her?

R. MAGLIOZZI: It was an interesting call.

T. MAGLIOZZI: It had to have been.

R. MAGLIOZZI: It was a fellow, whose name I don't remember, who owned the car. And I told him that there had been an incident.


T. MAGLIOZZI: Yes, I would say so.

R. MAGLIOZZI: And his car had fallen off the lift but - and again, I was giddy because I hadn't been under it. And I told him that. I said, look, we'll replace your car or the insurance company will replace it or whatever, but I'm just so happy that I wasn't crushed by your car. He was not amused.

T. MAGLIOZZI: He wasn't?


GROSS: What was your first fender bender?

R. MAGLIOZZI: Jeez, my first fender bender. Oh, I remember my first fender bender. It was with my dear friend Johnny Mellom (ph), a friend of mine who had a car. And I was - I was in college at the time because in high school I was too young to drive a car - no, no, I was in high school. And he had come to my house in his car, and again it involved a door. I'm bad with doors.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Evidently.

R. MAGLIOZZI: And he was pulled up alongside me somehow, and I didn't realize he was getting ready to leave. And I opened the door of my father's car. Johnny pulled away, and the door and his car met. And it was ugly. It was ugly.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Well, I don't remember my first accident, but I can tell you what my most recent accident.

R. MAGLIOZZI: It was this morning.

T. MAGLIOZZI: No, I had the great pleasure of years ago of buying for myself a - from a customer who had melted the engine - a 1987 Dodge Colt Vista. And even then, which was three or four years ago, it was an old jalopy. And - not that I had always had nice cars, but I always tried to even if I had an old car, to keep it looking good or in good shape. But with this car...

R. MAGLIOZZI: I never took the trouble.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Well, with this car, I decided it was a jalopy from the start and it was going to remain one. I wasn't going to fix the dents or the rust or anything.

R. MAGLIOZZI: And you realized how liberating that is.

T. MAGLIOZZI: It is unbelievably liberating. And my accident occurred one night as I was driving home from work. I was in Harvard Square, and a woman driving a Honda evidently wasn't paying attention and smashed into the back of my car, jarring, you know, me out of the driver's seat almost. But I wasn't hurt, and instead of the usual, where you get out of the car and exchange papers, I rolled down the window and stuck my head out. And I asked her - she was also driving a jalopy - if she was OK. And she said yeah. And I just waved and said see you later.

R. MAGLIOZZI: Forget about it (laughter).

T. MAGLIOZZI: And I drove off. And that's the first car I ever would've done that with and it felt great. And I...

R. MAGLIOZZI: I've done that with every car I ever owned.

T. MAGLIOZZI: I didn't look until days later and realized that she ruined my car. No, it didn't matter.

R. MAGLIOZZI: It didn't matter.

T. MAGLIOZZI: And isn't it crazy that we have cars that are all shiny and polished and ripple-free and dent-free and we have to worry about them? You buy a new car, you can't go to the parking lot for six months, afraid that someone's going to dent your door? So you don't...

GROSS: Well, were you ever that way with a car?

T. MAGLIOZZI: Yes, I was once that way with every car. And I realized one day how stupid it is.

R. MAGLIOZZI: It's only a car.

T. MAGLIOZZI: It's only a car. It's absolutely nuts. And I think we - there are certainly more important things to do with our time and our lives...

GROSS: Like fixing the cars (laughter).

T. MAGLIOZZI: Well, whatever, but, you know, there's certainly more things to be concerned about then the finish on your car.

GROSS: We're listening back to a 2001 interview with Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the hosts of NPR's Car Talk. Tom died yesterday. We'll hear more of the interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: We're remembering Tom Magliozzi, who died yesterday at the age of 77 of complications related to Alzheimer's. Tom and his younger brother Ray hosted NPR's Car Talk since 1987. Let's get back to our 2001 interview with Tom and Ray.


GROSS: Now, a lot of people think of you as Tom and Ray, you know, and they're not always sure which is which. It's like Tom and Ray, they're the car guys. So let's talk a little bit about who you are both as individuals. There's 12 years age difference between the two you. Tom, you are 12 years older than Ray. Were you close as kids? That's a really big gap when you're young.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Well, you know, in between there's a sister. And she claims that she has no recollection of my little brother for the first, like, 15 years of his life. She claims that we were the only two siblings. And she said where the heck did he come from? (Laughter) But, I mean, we were close if a 12-year-old can be close to a no-year-old and a 20-year-old can be close to an 8-year-old.

R. MAGLIOZZI: I'm glad he got that right.

T. MAGLIOZZI: (Laughter) So I guess we were close because I remember him fairly well, you know?

GROSS: Tom, did your mother make you take care of Ray?

T. MAGLIOZZI: I don't think so.

R. MAGLIOZZI: No because grandma lived with us.


R. MAGLIOZZI: Our mother's mother lived with us. And she took care of all of us for a time. It was her - I don't know if it was her responsibility, but - or she just enjoyed it. She took charge of us and she was the one who when she went to do the shopping took the kids along whatever. We don't know what mom did.


R. MAGLIOZZI: What did she do?

GROSS: Ray, did Tom bully you as the brother or was he too old to bother you?

R. MAGLIOZZI: Oh no, not at all. He was too old to bother me. And we had a great relationship, but I do remember going places with him and his friends. You know, why a kid who was a senior household would want to take as little brother to the beach with him, I don't know. But I willingly and gladly went along.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Well, I have to let you know, they were paying me off.

R. MAGLIOZZI: I thought so, I thought so.

T. MAGLIOZZI: I was making 20 bucks a week. Back then that was big money.

GROSS: Ray, did Tom expose you to things that your parents didn't know you were getting exposed to that they might not have been pleased about?

R. MAGLIOZZI: Like dangerous chemicals? No, not really. No.

T. MAGLIOZZI: No. I mean, the memories I have is we went to see - get this - I take my little brother to see in person The Three Stooges. Wow. You remember that?

R. MAGLIOZZI: I do remember that.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Talk about memorable.

R. MAGLIOZZI: You also took me to see Benny Goodman at Symphony Hall.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Yes I did.

R. MAGLIOZZI: Yeah. And he also used the leave me places, Terry. That's how I learned my way around the subway system of our fair city.


R. MAGLIOZZI: You can get home from here. I don't want to...

T. MAGLIOZZI: Don't take it personally.

R. MAGLIOZZI: I'm only 9.

GROSS: Were either of you more sociable as kids?

T. MAGLIOZZI: Was one of us more sociable than the other, you mean?


T. MAGLIOZZI: Beats me.

R. MAGLIOZZI: Gee, I don't know. I think Tommy was probably more sociable.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Yeah, I mean, some of the happiest years of my life were high school.

R. MAGLIOZZI: All six years of them.

T. MAGLIOZZI: All six years of high school. So I don't know if that would be sociable, but it was a very sociable time.

GROSS: Who taught each of you how to drive?



T. MAGLIOZZI: Yeah. In fact, my father when I was a kid, we had - he had a very old - even then - 1932 Chevy. And I was fascinated with driving. I remember I was 11-12 years old and I was watching him all the time. And it wasn't a simple thing to do. I mean, there was clutch brake; the starter was underneath the gas pedal. It was very confusing, and it really - it wasn't like a modern car. And one quiet, beautiful Sunday - spring Sunday morning, we were driving down the street on the backside of Cambridge, it was pretty deserted. And he turns to me, I'm 12 years old, and he says do you want to drive? I almost peed my pants. Man, I was so thrilled.

R. MAGLIOZZI: And to this day, he has the same reaction if someone asks him if he wants to drive.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Well, I got behind the wheel, and I did it. I mean, it was amazing. I stalled it a couple of times and I was actually able to drive. I was so thrilled. And from that moment on I just couldn't wait to get my license, which led to another incident.

GROSS: What?

T. MAGLIOZZI: Because one day I figured he had let me drive so I now was a driver, you know? And one day we were getting ready to go on a little family outing. It was a Sunday morning. The car was parked in front of the house and I decide I'm going to be a good to be a good guy - we were loading up the car with stuff, you know, we were going to the beach and the door was open. And I decided I would start the car and warm it up for dad. And the car happened to be in gear and I forgot to step on the clutch. And so I...

R. MAGLIOZZI: And so it became a three-door, huh?

T. MAGLIOZZI: I engaged the starter, the car lurches forward and the door falls off. I mean, it had these big iron hinges and they just broke. And there's the door lying on the sidewalk and I'm terrified. Man, I said oh my God. My father comes out of the house and he says, oh, the door fell off. He got some clothesline, tied the door back on and we went to the beach. He never said anything about it. The next day he took it down to one of his buddies and they welded the hinges back together, but it was the incident. It's sort of like dropping the car off the lift, you know?

GROSS: Was your father always that relaxed about things?

T. MAGLIOZZI: I guess he was.

R. MAGLIOZZI: Yeah, for the most part.

T. MAGLIOZZI: Yeah, he was.

GROSS: Well, thanks much for coming, and...

T. MAGLIOZZI: Terry, it's a pleasure.

GROSS: ...I really enjoyed talking to you.

T. MAGLIOZZI: You're a wonderful person.

R. MAGLIOZZI: Thanks for inviting us.

GROSS: Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the hosts of NPR's Car Talk, recorded in 2001. Tom died yesterday at the age of 77. Car Talk's longtime producer Doug Berman will tell us about his final visit with Tom last week after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. We're remembering Tom Magliozzi who hosted NPR's Car Talk with his brother Ray. Tom died yesterday at the age of 77 of complications from related Alzheimer's. This morning I recorded an interview with Doug Berman who has been the executive producer of Car Talk since it became an NPR show in 1987. We heard some of that interview at the top of today's show. Let's hear the final part of our conversation.

I always wondered and I'm sure so many of their listeners wonder this - how do they manage to be funny every week using the same subject as the jumping off point?


GROSS: I know they talked about everything in the context of talking about cars, but still, like, every week it would be something about an engine or breaks or, you know, a corroding body. I don't understand how they could do that.

BERMAN: Well, I have the answer to that. And the answer is that they didn't have to be funny every week. They were funny every hour of every day, you know? That's really who they were. What you heard on the show was absolutely them. And when you finish the show and went to get a cup of coffee it sounded the same, you know. I mean, the topics would change, but that's what they did. They sat down and they enjoyed themselves and they found humor in whatever was around them. And they made each other laugh and they made us laugh. So it was not an effort to be funny about anything. That's how they approached everything.

GROSS: In all the public radio conferences I've gone to, I think I met Tom and Ray once. And I always understood that they didn't travel a lot. They didn't leave town much. They didn't do a lot of public appearances. How come?

BERMAN: Again they were just sort of - they were internally driven. I can tell you a story about how they - I can tell you a story that reflects his unique approach to doing what he wanted to do. And also can teach you something about negotiations at the same time.

GROSS: Oh, oh, I'm eager to hear this. (Laughter).

BERMAN: Yeah. One day I got a call from a woman who is some sort of talent representative. And she said, I'm calling about Tom and Ray. I'm representing a client which is - I won't say the name of the client, but it's a major software company that makes a program called Word and one called Excel. And she said we're doing - we're introducing a new product. I don't even remember what it was. Maybe it was a, you know - something in your house that you open to let air in or something. And she said we're doing this in New Orleans and we're doing a mock late-night TV show as our, you know, presentation. And we'd like Tom and Ray to be the hosts of this - for this, you know, 45-minute product introduction. And we'll fly them first-class to New Orleans, you know. They could do it in one day if they like. They could stay overnight or however long they want if they want to enjoy the city, you know. Would they be willing to do this? And I said, gee, I don't know. I'm happy to ask them. She said, well, we can pay them $10,000. I said, OK. I'll find out. So the next time I saw them we were meeting, and I told them about it. And they looked at each other and looked at me and said - Tom said, why would we want to do that? I don't know. I just said I would ask you, OK. I'll tell her you're not interested.

So I called her back the next day, and I said, hi, I'm sorry they're not interested. She said, what do you mean they're not interested? I said, oh, they're just not interested. She said, well, what's their number? And I said I don't think they have a number. I think they're not interested. She said of course everybody has a number, you know. What's their number? I said they don't have a number. She said all right, well, ask them if they'll do it 25,000.

GROSS: (Laughter).

BERMAN: So I said all right. And so next time I saw them I said, you know, I explained it to them, and I said, you know, she wants to know if you'll do it for 25,000. And they said, no. Why would we want to do it for 25,000? We don't want to do it at all. And we didn't want to do it for 10,000. Tell her no. So I called her back, and she says all right will they do it for 50,000?


BERMAN: I said I'll ask them. You know, at that point I was, you know, who knows, maybe they will, you know? So I went and they said no, why would we want to do that? So I call her back and she is incredulous. And she says tell them to give me a number. (Laughter). So I say, I don't think they want to do it. Just - I can't tell my boss that. Just whatever it is, tell them to give me a number. So I explain this to him. And Tom says, all right tell her that to get us to do this, she would have to give us a $100,000 each, but then we wouldn't be able to do it because we could never work for someone who was stupid enough to pay us that much.


BERMAN: So that's why Tom didn't go to conferences.

GROSS: (Laughter).

BERMAN: He didn't feel like it.

GROSS: I get it.

BERMAN: He did what he wanted to do, you know?

GROSS: What is the future of Car Talk going to be now?

BERMAN: We're going to rename it The Best of Car Talk because it's obviously no longer going to be any new material. But I, you know, I really think that Tom's legacy is up there with people like Groucho Marx and Mark Twain, you know. I think his humor will be enjoyed for generations to come. And I think people listen to the show because they enjoy having a visit with the guys. And since that still exists we're going to continue to distribute the show as long as people want to listen to it.

GROSS: Doug, any final thoughts about Tom Magliozzi that you want to leave us with?

BERMAN: Well, you know, a couple, I mean, one is just, you know, his laugh was so, so great and infectious that it just made everybody around him feel better. It was such a gift, you know? He had a way of making everybody around him feel good. And when you put him in front of a microphone, you know, millions of people felt better. And I think that's a great legacy.

You know, the other thing I've been thinking about is how difficult it is to see him decline with Alzheimer's, you know. He had such an incredible mind. Mischievous and deductive and curious and of course, you know, hilarious, you know. So it was really difficult to see him taken by that disease. And I saw his lifelong friend Don Schock (ph) just last week. We were both visiting Tom. And, you know, Don was upset. And he said, you know, to have a guy like this with this kind of mind taken by that disease is a double obscenity. And to emphasize his point Don inserted an obscenity between double and obscenity. And I agree with him, you know. To see a guy who had such a mind have his mind, you know, slowly go is an obscenity. But we'll have, you know, we're fortunate that we have so much his life that he spent in front of a microphone that we'll get to enjoy it as long as we want to.

GROSS: And thank you for that, Doug. Thank you for having been the producer since the start in 1987 and for documenting Tom and Ray and giving us them to continue to listen to. Thank you so much for sharing some of your thoughts about Tom with us.

BERMAN: Thanks, Terry. I'm really happy to have been on FRESH AIR, on your show, to be able to talk about my friend. It means a lot. Thanks.

GROSS: Doug Berman is the executive producer of Car Talk and was the founding executive producer of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! We send our condolences to Doug, Ray Magliozzi and all of Tom's family and friends. We're grateful for all the advice and laughs Tom shared with us over the years.

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