Tom and Ray Magliozzi, hosts of the National Public Radio series Car Talk, will be the featured speakers at MIT's Commencement exercises on June 4.
Known to millions of Americans as "Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers," both Magliozzis are MIT graduates: Thomas L. Magliozzi graduated in 1958 with a degree in economics, while Raymond F. Magliozzi received the SB in humanities in 1972.
"We're proud and excited that Tom and Ray Magliozzi will be returning to their alma mater as Commencement speakers," said President Charles M. Vest. "Both on and off campus, Click and Clack rank among MIT's best-known and best-loved graduates. Their irrepressible and inventive approach to their work, their commitment to serving the larger community, their intellectual curiosity and, above all, their relentless irreverence are all qualities that we cherish and admire here at MIT."
Dr. Vest noted that the Magliozzi brothers impart provocative ideas and useful information in a humorous way. "Any regular listener to Car Talk knows that, for all their clowning, Tom and Ray are perceptive observers of American culture."
"All we really wanted was an invitation to the luncheon. But if we have to give the Commencement address to get the free lunch, so be it," quipped Tom Magliozzi. "It's a great honor for me, Class of '58, and for my brother, Class of '69, '70, '71, '72..."
"President Vest has demonstrated tremendous courage by inviting us to give the Commencement address, since he has absolutely no idea what we're going to say. And, needless to say, neither do we," said Ray Magliozzi.
Pooja Shukla, president of the senior class, called Click and Clack "a hilarious pair."
"I think the class will be really pleased to have a unique and genuinely fun Commencement -- and I think the Magliozzis can speak to the intellectual side of their audience as well as to the playful side," he said.
Graduate Student Council President Brian J. Schneider, who, like Shukla, is a member of MIT's Commencement Committee, was equally positive. "Actually, I'm ecstatic," he said. "I'm excited to see a little humor visit MIT at this year's Commencement. The last couple of years have been pretty serious and I think MIT is in serious need of humor."
"In my tenure at MIT, there has always been interest among students, faculty and alumni/ae in having Click and Clack speak at Commencement," said Dr. Vest. Referring to last week's announcement, he added, "My sole concern about this is its timing. When you break this kind of news on April first, there's always a chance that people won't take it seriously -- and this one is very much for real."
The Magliozzi brothers' radio show, Car Talk, is a comedy-laced blend of car advice, phone-in chat, audience-participation puzzles and general outrageousness. A popular feature of National Public Radio since its nationwide launch in the fall of 1987, Car Talk has garnered a loyal audience of more than two million.
Heard on 370 of NPR's 600 member stations, the show has earned the Magliozzis a prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting, and has spawned a syndicated newspaper column, a book, CDs and a popular web site. This past August, the success of their show led to their induction into the Radio Hall of Fame.
Featured on the Car Talk web site are several past communications between Click and Clack and MIT, including letters from President Vest responding to humorous complaints by the Magliozzis that they hadn't been invited to speak at previous MIT Commencement exercises. The letters (one from June 1997 and the other dated June 1998), read on-air, generated a torrent of e-mail responses to MIT from alumni/ae around the nation, confirming the popularity of Car Talk among MIT graduates.
The Magliozzis are Cambridge natives, and Ray continues to operate the Good News Garage, an auto repair shop near the MIT campus. After earning a PhD in management from Boston University, Tom Magliozzi served as an associate professor at Suffolk University for five years before resigning to devote himself full-time to the growing Car Talk phenomenon. The brothers' unique approach to radio advice was broadcast locally as early as 1977 and attracted the attention of NPR executives in the mid-1980s.
In recent years, MIT's Commencement speakers have included President Clinton and noted AIDS researcher Dr. David Ho (1998); UN Secretary General and MIT alumnus Kofi Annan (1997); Vice President Al Gore (1996), and former University of Chicago President Hannah Gray (1995).
A version of this article appeared in the April 7, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 25).