Much has changed since 1977, when the first episode of “Car Talk” aired on Boston’s WBUR, but the automobile’s central role in American life is not one of them. For all the auto industry’s fears of fading relevance with young people, cars remain one of the most important aspects of our material culture. And yet, with the exception of “Car Talk” itself, there have been few popular forums for the discussion of cars. With yesterday’s passing of Tom Magliozzi, half of the radio show’s beloved Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers, that absence is even more keenly felt.
The genius of “Car Talk,” which became one of National Public Radio’s most popular shows, was its recognition of the ubiquity of the car in American life. While the traditional auto media divided itself into either enthusiast-oriented “buff books,” heavy on horsepower figures and glossy pictures of performance cars, or more business- and industry-focused coverage of automakers, “Car Talk” recognized that the audience most in need of information about cars was precisely the audience that understands cars the least.