Stuart McLean Loves Telling Stories In The Vinyl Cafe

The Vinyl Cafe

He’s been called “Canada’s favourite storyteller,” but Stuart McLean, the best-selling author and hostThe Vinyl Café on CBC Radio is as down-to-earth as they come.

Now with more than one million books sold and a weekly radio audience estimated at 1.5 million, McLean got his start as a researcher for the Cross-Country Check-Up program on CBC Radio. Not long after, the program Sunday Morning enlisted McLean to come up with a few pieces of the show and then hired him to write full-time.

And while those experiences undoubtedly helped shape Stuart into the successful writer and broadcaster that he is today, he’s also the first to admit that it was his 10 years working alongside famed broadcaster Peter Gzowski that would prove to be the most influential upon his work as a writer.

The seeds for what would become the wildly popularVinyl Café were planted by a colleague of McLean’s, David Amer. Amer suggested they develop their own show where Stuart would be the on-air voice while Amer would program the music to be played during the show. It was McLean who suggested that instead of playing a selection of random music throughout their show, the duo should develop a story around a theme central to the show.

Eventually, the stories of their main character Dave, a record shop owner named in honour of Amer, became what is known today asThe Vinyl Café.

Stuart says the latestVinyl Café tour stories centre on the program’s main character Dave and a somewhat unusual purchase he has made.

“Dave buys a defibrillator and stores it in his garage to serve as a kind of neighbourhood defibrillator,” Stuart says.

This latest addition to theVinyl Café vaults is one of approximately 10 stories that Stuart estimates he writes in the run of a year. Although it may take around a month to write the story outline, the editing and fine-tuning process is ultimately the biggest time consumer.

“I essentially enter these characters lives and sometimes things don’t necessarily go in the direction that I want them to go. It is like I am dropping in on them and spending time with them, learning about what they are up to. The tweaks to the story can go on for much longer than anyone might think.”

For all of the success that Stuart has seen in Canada thanks to his impeccable way with words and storytelling, he says that he is also starting to see modest gains in attendance forVinyl Caféshows in the United States. Conquering our neighbours to the south isn’t as much a priority for Stuart as it is a bonus.

“Our presence in the States is modest. Cities close to the border, places like Seattle where we can perform before 3,000 people are particularly good to us. But that attendance can be much more modest in other cities while we are completely unknown in other places.

“The United States do not have a national radio network like we do in Canada,” he continues. “Because each public radio station is independent, we end up becoming best known in the markets that pick up the program. The feedback we get is mostly positive. We often hear listeners tell us they enjoy the perceived Canadian colours in the program. It offers them a chance to view the world through a different perspective.”

The United States is not the only market outside of Canada where McLean has taken theVinyl Café. Stuart has also performed in Australia, New Zealand and Ireland to name but a few countries. But no matter what country he is performing in, he says the stories work the same way as they do at home.

“It is very fun. I do get a kick out of performing but in this business, I don’t tend to sit around and think about the best pieces or the greatest hits. I have to focus on what I am working on now, not spend time thinking about how great we were last week. I am thinking about the next story ideas instead.”

While Stuart looks forward to all of his shows, he shares that he is especially looking forward to welcoming Ron Hynes as his musical guest at the Capitol Theatre. After all, what would theVinyl Café be without a little music?

“I truly feel as though Ron is one of Canada’s greatest songwriters that just really hasn’t had his due. It seems as though everyone in the business knows what a great artist he is and it’s about time his talent was shared with a wider audience. I am absolutely delighted that Ron has chosen to come out with us for these shows in the Maritimes.”

Article published in the October 22, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript

What: Vinyl Café featuring Stuart McLean and musical guest Ron Hynes
When: Tuesday, Oct. 22; Wednesday, Oct. 23, 7 p.m.
Where: Capitol Theatre, 811 Main Street, Moncton
Tickets start at $34.50 plus service charges. Advance tickets are available at the Capitol Theatre Box Office, by phone at (506) 856-3479 and online at