Car Talk Ends Its 25 Year Run: Here’s The Silver Lining

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Ray and Tom Magliozzi, the hosts of NPR’s Car Talk announced today that they are retiring after 25 years (35 years if you count the time the show aired locally on Boston’s NPR station WBUR before it went national).

Here’s a (semi-serious) statement from the hosts and a more official one from NPR.

While the hosts are retiring, the show will live on in stitched together re-runs starting in October.

Now, of course this is sad. They’ve been doing this a long time and by some measures Car Talk is one of NPR’s most popular programs. True confession: I actually really enjoy listening to the show.

But it’s also a rare opportunity.

You see, public radio program directors have a really hard job. They have to figure out some superhuman way to please everyone and often this involves being very, very (…very) risk averse. Change your programming schedule: better get ready for a lot of angry calls.

And this is a really. bad. thing. because it hamstrings them in the programming choices they are able to make.

Want to try out a new program? With the exception of a little flexibility some stations have on weekend evenings (when practically no one is listening)…good luck.

But when a long-standing show ends…

They can make one of two choices:

Stick with the status quo and continue to air re-runs of Car Talk ad infinitum (for at least the next 8 years, the show’s producers say).

OR

Put the show to bed.

The second choice is, admittedly, a lot harder to make. Some (likely particularly vocal) listeners will be aware that the show still exists in re-runs. And they’re not going to be happy.

However, public radio desperately needs an infusion of new voices and new ideas. 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.

I would encourage everyone reading this to contact your local public radio station (I’m trying to find a list of program directors and will post that here if I’m able to dig one up). Finding a list of public radio program directors has proven to be prohibitively difficult (oddly…) so I hope you will go to your local station’s website and dig up their contact information that way.

Ask for the General Manager or the Program Director and then ask them to make the slightly less popular decision to thank Car Talk for its amazing run but then move on.

Use this opportunity to encourage them to test new programming and give the next generation a shot at creating the NEXT most popular program on NPR.

As with all things in public radio, they can’t do it without your support.

UPDATE (6/9): A few more posts worth reading – Bob Collins (from Minnesota Public Radio) wonders whether, in light of Car Talk’s announcement, public radio can still take risks, Andrew Phelps of Nieman Lab writes about the show’s early days, Current.org has some excerpts from the letter Car Talk producers sent to stations regarding the move and KQED’s Ian Hill has Storified some reactions to the news.

UPDATE (6/26): Current solicited two commentaries, one from Ira Glass (who agrees with me, more or less) and one from NPR’s chief of programming Eric Nuzum (who, I will admit, makes some good points).

I’d love to hear your thoughts about all of this.

Do you think stations should continue airing the re-runs or Car Talk or is it time for a change? Leave a comment below or tweet using #newcartalk.

  • http://twitter.com/careysullivan Carey Sullivan

    I’m disappointed to hear Car Talk is ending. Between the retirements Click and Clack and Garrison Keillor, this an opportunity to change (somewhat) the tone and style of public radio. Perhaps they’ll add a couple of up and coming programs to the line up.