McLean is no stranger to Canadian audiences with more than one million people reportedly tuning in to his show each weekend.
Though he came to national prominence thanks to the Vinyl Cafe, McLean spent many years behind the scenes at CBC.
Not really knowing what he wanted to get from his job aside from the opportunity to write and be on the radio, McLean got his start as a researcher for the program Cross-Country Check-Up. Soon after, the program Sunday Morning commissioned him to do a few pieces for the show and ended up hiring him to write for them full-time. He credits his experience with both shows as having helped him find his way as a writer.
“I was working with a bunch of really great producers on both of those radio shows who really taught me the mechanics of writing,” Stuart says.
“I then ended up working with Peter Gzowski for 10 years and that is where I really found my voice as a writer.”
Asked whether Gzowski was a mentor of sorts to his work, Stuart says he is fortunate enough to have considered the late Gzowski more of a colleague than a mentor.
“Peter was very inspirational to me and someone whom I respected greatly,” he says. “He was a great journalist and had a great journalist mind. What was nice about Peter was that he had a real good understanding of a story and how to move that story forward.”
Stuart recalls his colleague David Amer, an aspiring on-air personality, helped to plant the seeds for what would become the popular Vinyl Cafe radio show.
“David always had the ambition of having his own radio show and one day, he came to me and suggested that we do a radio show together where he would pick the music to play and I would be the voice, introducing the songs.”
Stuart then took Amer’s idea and built upon it, suggesting to his colleague that rather than just playing a “bunch of music”, that they should incorporate a story and have a theme central to the show.
“So we went with the idea of a guy who would own a record store that would be playing the music featured on the show, that eventually morphed into the entity of this guy Dave (in honour of Amer) that would own a record store and serve as the subject of whom the stories being told would be about.”
Stuart says that the idea of putting on a live Vinyl Cafe show came about after a successful first few years on the radio. It was his colleague Amer who made the suggestion that the duo try bringing the Vinyl Cafe into theatres and halls.
“The first Vinyl Cafe live show we did was at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto. It is a 300-seat theatre and though we didn’t think that anybody would bother to show up, we had sold it out. We really couldn’t believe it,” Stuart says.
“Then of course, we had a lot of fun doing the live show so we started taking the show to cities outside of Toronto and built it from there to the point we are today where we perform around 100 shows in the run of a year.”
Stuart says that he continues to enjoy taking the show to places all over the country as well as seeing the musicians perform night after night.
“We have such a great time out on the road,” he says. “We have the opportunity to travel with such wonderful people and hang out with musicians. I just don’t get tired of that.”
Though it should go without saying, music plays an integral part of the Vinyl Cafe. He says that the process of selecting artists to play on the show is a joint effort between him and Vinyl Cafe music producer Julie Penner.
“It is Julie’s job to stay on top of the music featured in the show. She in turn listens to a lot of the music that comes into the CBC music library. She then passes on whatever she feels could be of interest to the show.”
Past performers on the live Vinyl Cafe shows include Jill Barber while on the current run of shows through the Maritimes, McLean will be joined by Fredericton native David Myles and folk duo Madviolet.
McLean is looking forward to his return to the Maritimes and the dozen shows that await him on Canada’s East Coast.
“We try to get out to all regions of the country every second year or so. We never want to overstay our welcome anywhere but we never want to leave too long between shows either.”
Article published in March 4, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript