Doug Berman Looks Back On Four Decades Of 'Car Talk'

Oct 28, 2017

As Car Talk's time on WFAE draws to a close this weekend, we're taking time to look back on the show's history and the impact it had on so many listeners in the Charlotte region.

One of the men most responsible for the show's success is Doug Berman, the show's executive producer, also known to Car Talk listeners as Doug "not a slave to fashion, bongo boy" Berman.

He joined WFAE from Oakland, CA, where he now lives, to share some of his own memories of the show.

- Highlights -

On whether he really is not a slave to fashion

Oh most definitely. I went to WBEZ earlier this week to be interviewed for their gala. It's a big fundraising event. And I was told I need to dress up, so I put a jacket on over my T-shirt. 

On how the show got started

The station in Boston is WBUR, and it was a university station back in the '70s - and it still is a university station - but it was a volunteer station. So all the shows were done by volunteers. And some guy was doing a talk show, a half-hour talk show, and he decided one week that it would be fun to do something on cars, and fixing cars.

So he invited six mechanics from the area to come in and take questions from listeners. And among the six mechanics called were Tom and Ray at their garage. And Ray thought it was a dumb idea, so he said, 'Tom, why don't you go?'

And so Tom went and showed up, and he was the only one of the six who showed up. So he was a panel of one. But it went so well, the guy asked if he could come back next week. And he said, 'Sure, can I bring my brother?'

And in the intervening week, the guy whose show it was got fired, and he left them a note saying, 'Hey, it's yours now. Have fun. Watch your language.' And that's how they got started.

On whether the calls really weren't screened

Well they were screened, but they were screened by us, not by the guys. The guys didn't want to know anything. What Ray said was, 'Look, if we knew what the questions were, we'd be obligated to get the answers right, and we don't want that.'

So they allowed us to do the screening, and so we screened - we started screening for, you know, just interesting people, and a real variety of types of people from different places and different questions. And it sort of became as much a show about getting to know people in the country as it was about cars.

On the show's continuation after original episodes ended in 2012 and Tom passed away in 2014

Well, we kind of knew how important the show was to people. Even though it was stuff that we had already done. We got so many messages from people that said the show was still important to them, that it made them feel better about their lives for an hour a week.

I'll give you an example - a woman wrote to us not long ago, and she said - she told us this story that her father had Alzheimer's, and he had been fading farther and farther away. And they really hadn't had much connection, and she would drive him around to things he needed to do - to doctor's appointments or whatever.

And they were driving one day, and she had Car Talk on, and all of a sudden, the guys made a joke, and Tom started his, you know, very distinctive laugh, and the father started to laugh. And the woman started to laugh. And they looked at each other, and they had this moment of connection, she said, that they just hadn't had in a year or more. And she just - her heart melted that they had this moment over Car Talk.

And then, she said, 'And then I bashed into the car in front of me, which had stopped, because I was looking at my father.' But, she said, 'It was worth it!'

On whether he has any other new public radio shows in the works

(laughter) I don't know yet. Can I take a pass on that question right now?

While you're here, check out WFAE's webpage featuring listener memories of the show, and if you want to waste more perfectly good hours listening to episodes of Car Talk - you still can! Head over to www.cartalk.com and find the Car Talk podcast and other old episodes.