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Originally published Friday, June 8, 2012 at 10:05 PM

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Wisecracking 'Car-Talk' brothers retiring

NPR will keep "Car Talk" going by cobbling together the best of old segments.

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For years, after their broadcasts Tom and Ray Magliozzi, hosts of the public-radio hit "Car Talk," have ranked the listener calls they receive on a scale from five to one, with five being the most entertaining.

It's an archival system that soon will be put to use.

After 35 years of weekly broadcasts and some 12,500 calls, the wisecracking brothers said Friday they are retiring.

The two announced their departure in a jointly written CarTalk.com column with their trademark humor, which has been described as equal parts Marx Brothers, Mark Twain and Mr. Goodwrench.

"My brother has always been 'work-averse,' " Ray Magliozzi, 63, said. "Now, apparently, even the one hour a week is killing him!"

"It's brutal!" chimed in Tom Magliozzi, 74.

"As of October, we're not going to be recording any more new shows," Tom wrote.

Ray added, "We've decided that it's time to stop and smell the cappuccino."

NPR will keep the show going by cobbling together the best of the old segments — the "fives," so to speak. The producers think most listeners won't notice or care that the show is dated. Nonetheless, the announcement Friday saddened fans of the pair, also known as "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers," whose freewheeling chat show — ostensibly about cars — has been a weekend tradition for decades.

The show, which airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KUOW, is one of NPR's powerhouse performers, in part because it appeals to such a diverse audience. People who have no interest in cars are among the most devoted listeners.

"Car Talk" started as a weekly call-in show on WBUR, a Boston public-radio station, in 1977. The brothers — both graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — gained expertise from running an auto-repair shop in Cambridge, Mass. They kept working there while taping the weekly shows. NPR began distributing the show nationwide in 1987.

NPR has no higher-rated show. "I think it's fair to say it's going out at the top of its game," Eric Nuzum, vice president of programming for NPR, said Friday afternoon.

The brothers will continue writing their "Dear Tom & Ray" column twice a week, NPR said. The Seattle Times publishes one column on Fridays.

The announcement capped several years of informal conversations between NPR executives and the Magliozzis about the future of the show, which hasn't strayed far (if at all) from its original format.

Peter Sagal, the host of another weekly program on NPR, "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!," said in a blog post Friday that getting to know the Magliozzis over the years "made me realize that in radio, maybe in life, it's much more important to be kind than it is to be clever."

NPR does not release the "average quarter-hour" radio ratings that assess how many people are listening on a 15-minute basis. But Nuzum said "Car Talk" outrates "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and other radio staples.

" 'Morning Edition' touches more people because it's broadcast for many more hours," Nuzum said. "But for a single hour of programming, this is the single most powerful program on public radio and has been for years." (Cumulatively, "Morning Edition" reaches about 13 million people a week; "Car Talk" reaches about 3.3 million.)

In the past, repeats of "Car Talk" have rated just as highly as new episodes, NPR officials said.

The famously lackadaisical Magliozzis joked Friday that they were about to get "even lazier."

The brothers left open the possibility they might return to the airwaves for special occasions, or perhaps even for something new.

Turning briefly serious at the end of the column Friday, Ray said to fans: "Thank you for giving us far more of your time than we ever deserved. We love you."

Nuzum did not venture a guess about how long NPR could keep distributing reproduced episodes of "Car Talk." But the calls that are "fives" alone, he said, could make up eight years of material.

Material from The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and The New York Times is included in this report.

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