Off-Ramp host John Rabe talks with NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamberg about her role in the "Car Talk" phenomenon, which changed public radio. Car Talk co-host Tom Magliozzi died Monday of complications of Alzheimer's at the age of 77.
It was 1987, and NPR was starting "Weekend Edition Sunday." Veteran "All Things Considered" host Susan Stamberg was to be the host. "And we put a call out to stations," she remembered this week, "Got anything good local? I mean, we were going to do two hours. There were to be no reporters. I, as host, was desperate! Let's see what's out there." In came a tape from WBUR in Boston of a car repair call-in show that Tom and Ray Magliozzi had been hosting for a decade.
At this point, Stamberg stresses that this is her version of the story, in which she plays "the wise heroine." Others remember it differently. She says a whole line of people — from Robert Siegel (then NPR's News Director) to her own husband — said it wouldn't work as an NPR segment. But Stamberg prevailed. "These guys are fabulous," she told the nay-sayers. "Everybody loves cars, they have those incredible accents, and they laugh all the time — we're putting them on the air."
(NPR's Susan Stamberg by Antony Nagelmann)
"We were in the business of doing news broadcasts. This was our first entertainment show —really, just pure entertainment. And to me, the thing I loved the most, was just the relationship you could hear between the two of them. Tom, the older brother; Ray, the one who worked in the garage every single day. And the kick they got out of one another. And they let us listen in on it and take part in it."
Stamberg says she imagines what it was like when the two were at home at the dinner table, and she says they invited us to the table "so we could sit and get the best spaghetti that Mamma Magliozzi made, and enjoy those meals together, and laugh at those brothers."
Listen to KPCC this Saturday at 10am, when Ray Magliozzi will host a live show in memory of his brother Tom.