Goodbye 'Car Talk,' Hello 'Everywhere' Radio?

By Sophie Schechter  SEP 28, 2012 3:15 PM

The famous "Car Talk" brothers are shutting down their beloved public radio show, but this does not mark the end of the radio era, say executives.


MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL After 35 years of supplying advice and laughter to roughly 3.3 million listeners via 660 radio stations per week, NPR’s hit series Car Talk will stop producing new shows this month.  

The radio talk show, hosted by brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi, has been “culturally right up there with Mark Twain and the Marx Brothers," according to Doug Berman, executive producer of Car Talk. But despite the show's 25 years of success and timeless quality, , hosts Tom, 74, and Ray, 63, have decided -- due to their advancing ages --  that it is “time to get even lazier.” 

NPR has announced that Car Talk will cease producing new episodes at the end of September, so presumably this weekend, but the station will continue to broadcast reruns of Car Talk until, we assume, the show stops bringing in listeners. Car Talk reruns will run on NPR often, but not necessarily in the same prime time slots. "We're hoping to be lamerican-rambler-car-talkike I Love Lucy and air ten times a day on NPR at Nite in 2075," Tom told ABC World News.

The premise of Car Talk is simple: The two mechanics dispense wisdom -- regarding car problems, primarily, but also about relationship issues sparked by automobile malfunctions -- to individual callers across the US and Canada. However, Tom and Ray are not your average mechanics. Both graduates of MIT, the brothers decided to open up a DIY car shop originally named Hackers Haven in 1973, selling car parts to non-mechanics while also teaching lay people how to install the equipment. When this operation proved unsuccessful, the brothers decided to open up a classic repair shop they called Good News Garage in 1977.

That same year, WBUR, an NPR affiliate in Boston, asked the Magliozzi brothers to sit on a panel of automobile specialists. It was from this one-time appearance that NPR discovered the duo and their ability to mix auto advice with comedy. Soon after, the show Car Talk came to life. Hosts Ray and Tom took on the nicknames Click and Clack, in homage to the old, worn-out vehicles discussed on the program. Their ability to diagnose issues based on general descriptions and, in many cases, sound effects, was uncanny.

In their 35 years on the radio and 25 years at NPR, the Magliozzi brothers have become a staple in the lives of many radio listeners, even among urbanites who don't drive or even own vehicles. “Grim news indeed,” said one fan in a Tweet after hearing that Car Talk would no longer be airing new episodes come fall. He continued, “I am mourning Click and Clack’s announcement on several levels. Most obviously, the retirement leaves a gaping void in the NPR community.”

So what does the end of Car Talk mean in the age of new media? With the new horizons of technology fast approaching, can radio continue to stand up to the onset of online music services like Pandora (NYSE:P), Spotify, Rdio, iHeartRadio (NYSE:CCO), Amazon Cloud (NASDAQ:AMZN),  Google Play (NASDAQ:GOOG), and iTunes (NASDAQ:AAPL), not to mention satellite radio? Or is the retirement of Click and Clack a symbol of the inevitable end for all NPR shows? And for that matter, what does this mean for the future of commercial radio?

For now, radio fans do not need to panic, says Amy Yong, Vice President Equity Research Analyst at Macquarie Bank. “The reality is you are only seeing a 1% decline in listenership [in traditional, commercial radio] over the last 10 years,” she tells Minyanville.

“But,” Yong continues, "I think [the survival of radio] will depend on GDP and local advertising trends. As you look out over the next decade, with the increase in all these IP services, as well as Sirius XM (NASDAQ:SIRI), I think all the traditional radio broadcasters will really have to move quickly to additional strategies. If traditional radio stations do not move fast enough on the digital front, with initiatives like iHeartRadio, there's a risk that the top line will decelerate.”

Fortunately, NPR has not wasted time moving into the digital realm. Anna Christopher, Director of Media Relations for NPR,  explains to Minyanville that she believes those who had previously followed the Magliozzi brothers will not stop listening just because there are no new shows. If anything, she predicts that more of the younger generation will fall in love with Ray and Tom’s playful humor and surplus of motor vehicle knowledge, especially thanks to the many methods through which public radio is now reaching a younger audience -- namely online and through social media. “We don’t anticipate any change with regards to audiences or donations,” said Christopher. 

Although for the majority of its first 15 years on air Car Talk was strictly a call-in radio show, it has taken advantage of Twitter, blogs, Facebook, and more within the last 10 years or so to give advice to the ever-increasing number of fans.

In some ways, NPR's early adoption of multimedia formats was prompted by demographics. NPR is funded by the government and by personal donations. On average, NPR gains 4.6% of its revenue from federal, state, and local governments, which pales in comparison to the 39% it gains from individual donations. As of now, the average NPR listener is in the early 50s age range. However, as NPR continues to infiltrate the Internet and the ever evolving world of mobile technology, it's hoped that the average age of the audience will be younger.

In recent years, NPR shows have expanded to Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Twitter, and other social media outlets. Many programs have also created apps for the iPhone and iPad. Podcasts of every NPR show as well as news updates are available on NPR’s website. “Radio is our number one strength,” echoes Christopher, and the development and expansion of media “plays on our strength.”  As CEO Gary Knell once said, “Radio isn’t going away, it’s going everywhere.”

Furthermore, says Christopher, NPR program developers don't create shows by targeting a specific group of people. “We don’t set out to do anything just for the younger people or just for baby boomers,” she says. Instead, producers create the best content they can and try to expose as many people to it as possible, letting their listeners choose them, rather than the other way around.

The Web is also coming to the rescue of loyal Car Talk fans. Although Click and Clack's followers may have to settle for reruns come October, they will still be able to access fresh jokes online: The Magliozzi brothers plan to continue writing a blog for their site,

Also see: Why We'll Miss Car Talk: Great Moments From the Show..
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