Oh, Brother: 'Car Talk' Guy Puts Mouth in Gear

Ray and Tom Magliozzi
Motor mouths: Ray, left, and Tom Magliozzi were here to drum up support for public radio when Tom made clear his view of Bush. (Michael Robinson-Chavez -- The Washington Post)
By Mark Leibovich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 4, 2005

The guys who host "Car Talk" on National Public Radio -- brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi -- were in Washington yesterday to visit with some of the powerful government officials whose support for public radio is so vital. They also sat for a rare interview.

"George Bush is a [unprintable vulgarity]," Tom Magliozzi says, about three minutes into the interview.

Rule Number One: When you're trying to ensure government funding, it's best not to refer to the head of said government as an unprintable vulgarity.

Maybe this is why the "Car Talk" guys rarely give interviews.

"Yeah, you probably shouldn't say that," says Doug Berman, executive producer of public radio's most popular weekend show, who is sitting across the breakfast table at Cafe Luna on P Street. NPR spokeswoman Jenny Lawhorn agrees. As do Ray and Tom, aka "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers" at least until Tom essentially repeats himself, twice.

This is the part of the story where NPR officials make it clear that the views of the show's personalities do not reflect those of its management.

"I'd like to point out that 'Car Talk' is editorially independent," Lawhorn says.

"Their jokes and jabs," she further states in a follow-up e-mail, "aren't in any way the official views of NPR and its member stations."

This is an important distinction, since local public radio stations rely partly on the largess of Congress, some of whose members are Republicans. These stations, in turn, pay fees to NPR for programming. So NPR executives are understandably sensitive to what they call their "perception problem" -- that NPR is often considered a bastion of liberal sensibilities that are winning little love from Washington these days, or, for that matter, funding.

But the Magliozzis are prime assets for the radio network, given that their stock in trade -- cars and humor -- is largely apolitical and is enjoyed across party lines. About 30 members of Congress of both parties attended a reception with the Magliozzis in the Rayburn Building last night.

The duo attracts 4.7 million listeners a week on nearly 600 stations. They debuted on Boston's WBUR in 1977 and took "Car Talk" into national syndication 10 years later.

Click and Clack's radio shtick is indistinguishable from their real-life conversations, say people who know them. "People say, 'You sound just like those shmucks on the radio,' " Ray says. In other words, they sound like drunk raccoons with Boston accents who cackle perpetually and occasionally dispense car-related wisdom.

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