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Car Talk archive can provide years of mileage for NPR, but is that good for public radio?

Ray Magliozzi, left, and his brother Tom Magliozzi, hosts of National Public Radio's
Ray Magliozzi, left, and his brother Tom Magliozzi, hosts of National Public Radio's "Car Talk" show, are photographed with their cartoon likenesses in Cambridge, Mass., on Thursday, June 19, 2008. The brothers announced Friday, June 8, 2012 their plans to retire from the program.
AP/Charles Krupa

Car Talk is getting scrapped, it was announced Friday, with 74-year-old Tom Magliozzi and 63-year-old Ray Magliozzi — Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers — pulling out of the popular program and changing lanes into retirement.

RAY:  Hey, you guys.  My brother has always said, “Don’t be afraid of work.”

TOM:  Right.  Make work afraid of YOU!

RAY:  And he’s done such a good job at it, that work has avoided him all his life.

TOM:  And with Car Talk celebrating its 25th anniversary on NPR this fall (35th year overall, including our local years at WBUR)…

RAY:  …and my brother turning over the birthday odometer to 75, we’ve decided that it’s time to stop and smell the cappuccino.

TOM:  So as of October, we’re not going to be recording any more new shows. That’s right, we’re retiring.

The light at the end of the tunnel? NPR will continue to broadcast newly assembled models made from parts found in the 25-year archive of 1,200 episodes and 12,500 callers. What this signifies about change, or lack thereof, in public radio, however, has people talking.

Minnestota Public Radio's Bob Collins credits the two brothers with helping "to pull public radio away from its 'way too serious' approach to broadcasting" and says the next few years are going to be an interesting test. 

You can do a lot of creative things when nobody listens to your radio station because there's little downside to taking risk. But not anymore. Public radio has never been more popular and taking a risk has never been more dangerous. The early A Prairie Home Companion would have a most difficult time getting on the air — anywhere — today.

Essentially, public radio is where commercial radio was 30 years ago, just before it went on its suicidal path toward irrelevance by playing it safe in order not to alienate an existing audience.

Adam Schweigert, the former Director of Digital at WOSU Public Media, writes about the "silver lining" of the situation, despite the difficult task ahead for program directors whose dance to please many parties often "involves being very, very (…very) risk averse." 

Public radio, he writes, needs "an infusion of new voices and new ideas," and points to the Car Talk retirement as chance to test new programming and "give the next generation a shot at creating the NEXT most popular program on NPR."

Public radio managers spend a lot of time talking about the need for these new voices, more diversity on-air, new programs to attract new audiences, etc. but it remains prohibitively difficult to act.

This is one of the rare times where a premium time slot is actually available to give new programming a shot. And stations should seize this opportunity.

He is encouraging his readers to contact their local public radio stations and ask the general manager or the program director "to make the potentially less popular decision to thank Car Talk for its amazing run, but then move on."

Have any ideas as to what should replace Click and Clack? Fill up our comments with super unleaded, and merge into the Twitter conversation @KPCC. Some of the conversation so far:


Lisa Brenner can be reached via Twitter @lisa_brenner