The Vinyl Cafe

The Vinyl Cafe
The Vinyl Cafe
Genre Variety show
Running time 1 hour
Country Canada
Languages English
Syndicates CBC Radio
Starring Stuart McLean
Producers Jess Milton
Website The Vinyl Cafe
Podcast Vinyl Cafe Stories

The Vinyl Cafe is an hour-long radio variety show hosted by Stuart McLean and broadcast on CBC radio, BBC Radio 7 and on several U.S. public radio stations. It airs on Sunday at noon on Radio One and Saturday at 9 a.m. on Radio 2 and is also available as a podcast, although the podcasts are usually just McLean's stories for studio episodes because of copyright restrictions on recorded music, however the concert episodes are released in their entirety.[1]

The show is independently produced by McLean and sold to the CBC. Each season has approximately 22 new episodes. Half of those are recorded in the studio and the other half are done with live audiences in theatres across Canada, with one 2011 show recorded in Cleveland, Ohio. One episode was recorded onboard VIA Rail's transcontinental passenger train The Canadian from the dome observation car, complete with an audience of passengers and featured a rail travel theme.



The show features essays, fiction and music; while frequently humorous, the weekly programs are also often wistfully nostalgic. The live episodes often begin with Stuart reciting a complimentary description of the venue's community about its character and history. The show also endeavours to introduce listeners to new Canadian musical talent, through playing recording in studio episodes and performances in the live audience ones.

A major feature of many of McLean's shows are the "Dave and Morley Stories", which feature a fictional Toronto family. The name "Vinyl Cafe" refers both to the show's musical content and the fictional record shop owned by McLean's character Dave. This aspect of the show has spawned a number of books of short stories, as well as audio recordings. Another feature is "The Vinyl Cafe Story Exchange", where listeners are invited to send in personal stories to the producers who read selections on air. The series also presents an annual set of awards that are called the "Arthur Awards", which are intended to commend various people who have performed extraordinary good deeds in the preceding year.

Every episode ends with McLean's signature signoff, "I'm Stuart McLean, so long for now" and followed by the show's folksy guitar theme song, "Happy Meeting In Glory" (as performed by Ry Cooder). The show is produced by Jess Milton. Meg Masters is the long-suffering story editor and the show's founding producer is Dave Amer. Julie Penner is the musical director.

Dave and Morley Stories

Although they are not featured in every episode of The Vinyl Cafe, the "Dave and Morley Stories" are by far the show's most famous segment. The stories, written and read by McLean, himself, describe the zany misadventures of a fictional family whose last name is never given (although, in one story, Dave's mother's name is given as Margaret McNeal). The family consists of Dave, his wife Morley, their children Stephanie and Sam, as well as several pets which figure prominently in many stories. They live in contemporary Toronto, and they keep a jukebox in the living room.

Although each episode is a closed story in its own right, there are often cross references to previous stories and several re-emerging characters. Oftentimes, stories highlight a special bond or shared history that two characters have or a coming of age momentum. The stories always end on a reconciling, affectionate and often nostalgic note. Frequently, the moral is that the small things and pleasures in life are underrated and that truth, love, patience and forgiving will resolve conflict and misunderstanding best. The humor is kind and human and portraits the individual quirkiness of the characters deeply affectionate.

The major characters in the stories are Dave, Morley, their family and assorted friends and neighbours:

  • Dave is in his late forties to early fifties. He runs an independent record store, called "The Vinyl Cafe", whose slogan is "We may not be big, but we're small". Dave represents an alternative view on life that is not based on financial success and status but on human relationships and music. He grew up in Big Narrows, on Cape Breton Island, where his mother Margaret still resides. Dave is frequently neurotic and prone to small accidents and mishaps that he usually inadvertently escalates into major ones and he is somewhat of a hypochondriac. He is painfully awkward and a terrible liar. These attributes motivate many of the stories, which range from an incident with the Christmas turkey, to accidentally destroying Mary Turlington's treasured candles, to filling the elementary school playground with frogs. It is his wife, Morley, who often has to resolve the mess Dave creates.
Dave enjoys a good prank and has a tradition of pulling outrageous jokes on his friend, Kenny Wong, every April Fools Day. Dave worked as a tour manager "for some of the best indie acts; certainly for some of the weirdest" before he met Morley. His enjoyment of pranks is seen in his younger days a tour manager, as well. Dave's last name has never been revealed; although in "School Days", his mother's last name is McNeal, it's unclear whether she uses her married name or reverted to her maiden name after Dave's father died.
  • Morley was a stay-at-home mom, until she re-entered the workforce. She is currently employed at a local theater. She loves to figure-skate. She and Dave first met at an ice-rink in Providence, Rhode Island, when they were in their twenties. She is often more level-headed and practical than Dave and frequently long suffering when it comes to his adventures. Morley works hard at running the family and, more often than not, Dave is more like a third child to her. Dave will then go to great lengths to prove his love again.
  • Stephanie is a jaded and skeptical Toronto teenager who often fights with her brother Sam. In the first stories, she was fourteen or fifteen years old. She was frequently rebellious and sullen which led to many disagreements with her parents and Sam. In more recent stories, she attends university in another city and dates a young man named Tommy Nowlan. Since then, some episodes feature coming of age stories. She spent one summer planting trees north of Thunder Bay. Soon after her job ended, Stephanie visited her aged 'Aunt Dorothy' in England. She assumed that she would dislike the trip but discovered an interest in history and the past while away.
  • Sam is about seven or eight years younger than Stephanie. In many stories, he was referred to as seven; although his age has recently made a jump to age eleven. Only a few stories have Sam placed at any age between seven and eleven. Despite his ineptitude at sports, he plays goalie on his hockey team and plays on the girls field hockey team, which was the subject of one story. He likes to knit and help his neighbours, Eugene and Maria. Sam is frequently portrayed as sensitive, slightly goofy and often naive. Several of his friends have been minor characters in several stories. This includes a skateboarding girl who he met on a school trip to Quebec City, when he missed the bus to an IMAX theatre; although they spoke different languages and he never got her contact information or even her name, it proved a exhilaratingly romantic experience for the boy.
  • Arthur is the family dog. He likes soft ice-cream and considers himself dominant to Dave (much to Dave's surprise) and steals socks and potatoes. He was once a sheep in a Christmas pageant. Arthur is considered a full family member.
  • Galway is the mysterious family cat, who came from Dave's sister Annie, and is named for American poet Galway Kinnell. Galway was intentionally brought on one family vacation and accidentally came on another, by stowing away in the trunk. The vacation was ruined partially due to her. She was briefly toilet-trained (until she almost flushed herself down the toilet) but still enjoys flushing the toilet when the bathroom door is left open.

The stories often include various neighbours and friends of the principal characters:

  • Jim Scoffield is Dave's closest friend and neighbour, although he has a tendency to be present at Dave's most awkward moments, such as Dave's infamous incident with the Christmas turkey. Jim is originally from the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia.
  • Bert and Mary Turlington live next door to Dave and Morley. They have three children, Adam, who is younger than Stephanie, and "the twins" (one of whom is a girl), who are older than Sam. Bert is a talkative criminal lawyer, while Mary is a chartered accountant and Dave's neighbourhood nemesis. Her meticulous perfectionism and fixed ideas of an ordered life make her Dave's opposite; her plans and projects are frequently upended by Dave's propensity for causing chaos. Mary resents that Dave loves his job, considering his happy-go-lucky lifestyle sanctimonious and phony, while Dave thinks that Mary is stiff and intimidating.
  • Dick and Polly Anderson are an elegant upper-class couple who throw an annual Christmas house-party. Polly is the neighbourhood's "Martha Stewart" figure and "perfect home-maker". Morley often feels inadequate around Polly.
  • Carl and Gerta Lowbeer are neighbours of Morley and Dave. They are somewhat older, Carl having recently retired from his job as an engineer. Since then, Carl has begun to take philosophy courses. Carl once asked Dave to "babysit" his sourdough bread starter, while he and Gerta were on holiday. Gerta has been revealed to be a keen birdwatcher.
  • Morty and Irene Zuckerman live on Brock Avenue, a five-minute walk away. Not particularly close friends, Morty's surprise invitation to dinner one night is the subject of the story "Late Date".
  • Eugene and Maria Conte are an elderly couple who live next-door. Eugene loves to garden. His famous fig tree is the focus of a story. Maria loves to dote on the children. They have a son, Anthony Thomas, who lives in London. They have always called Anthony Thomas "Tony" but he has been going by his middle name ever since moving to England. Eugene is originally from a village in Calabria called Rendi in Fiori. Sam and Eugene are friends, and Sam helps with the emails that Tony sends them. Eugene makes home-made wine, and has offered it to Sam on several occasions. Dave is often concerned about their wellbeing and their strange habit of only living in the basement of their house but realizes they will ask for help when they need it.
  • Kenny Wong runs Wong's Scottish Meat Pies, a shop located near the Vinyl Cafe. It is largely referred to as a Chinese restaurant, but has once supplied meat pies and deep-fried Mars bars to Sam's birthday party. Kenny is from the town of Burnt Creek. While he was living there, he and his family were excluded by most of the town's citizens because they were the only Chinese family living there. Kenny is known for his austerity and his loyalty to his "regulars". He enjoys pranks just as much as Dave, who is frequently the victim in his jokes, and vice versa.
  • Murphy is in Sam's class and his best friend. He and Sam cause some minor mischief in several stories and live in their own world. Murphy often motivates Sam to their adventures.
  • Peter Moore is another one of Sam's friends. On the grade 8 trip to Quebec City Peter spent all of his money on plastic trolls.
  • Emil is a homeless man who resides around the Vinyl Cafe and occasionally asks for money from various people around the neighbourhood. He has his own philosophy of life and is a lovable misfit who for some time had his own library in a shopping cart and started gardening plants in public places. He once won ten thousand dollars in the lottery, which he quickly gave away to his regular donors.
  • Dorothy Capper is a friend of Dave's, who owns "Woodsworth's Books". Her store is located down the street from the Vinyl Cafe and Dave frequently stops by just to hang out and ask for advice on some neurotic problem. There have been two stories focused on her in the series. The first one is about her problems with her dog, Stanley, and the second is about her growing disinterest in owning a book store. At the end of the story, her zest for selling books is renewed and she continues to run her store.
  • Marcus Portnoy is the bully at Sam's school.

Collections of stories in book form

Canadian Editions

  • Stories from the Vinyl Cafe (Penguin Books Canada, 1995, updated and revised edition, 2005)
  • Home from the Vinyl Cafe (Penguin Books, 1998)
  • Vinyl Cafe Unplugged (Penguin Books, 2001)
  • Vinyl Cafe Diaries (Penguin Books, 2003)
  • Secrets from the Vinyl Cafe (Penguin Books, 2006)
  • Extreme Vinyl Cafe (Viking, 2009)

U.S. Editions

  • Home from the Vinyl Cafe (Simon & Schuster, 2005) *

UK Editions

  • Home from the Vinyl Cafe (Granta, 2005)
  • Vinyl Cafe Unplugged (Granta, 2006)
  • The U.S. and UK editions of Home from the Vinyl Cafe are a compilation of stories from the Canadian editions, Stories from the Vinyl Cafe and Home from the Vinyl Cafe.

Collections of stories in audio form

  • Vinyl Cafe Stories, (1998)
  • The Vinyl Cafe On Tour (1999)
  • Vinyl Cafe Odd Jobs (2001)
  • Vinyl Cafe Inc. Coast to Coast Story Service (2002)
  • A Story-Gram From Vinyl Cafe Inc. (2004)
  • Vinyl Cafe: A Christmas Collection (2005)
  • An Important Message from the Vinyl Cafe (2007)
  • The Vinyl Cafe Storyland (2008)
  • Planet Boy (2009)
  • Out and About (2010)

The covers of the Canadian editions of Vinyl Cafe Diaries, Secrets from the Vinyl Cafe, The Vinyl Cafe Coast to Coast Story Service and A Story-gram from the Vinyl Cafe were designed and illustrated by noted writer, artist and cartoonist Seth.

McLean's Vinyl Cafe stories can also be purchased in audio form from the web label Zunior. In addition, older stories are being podcast at CBC's Vinyl Cafe website.

Collections of essays in book form

  • The Vinyl Cafe Notebooks (October 2010, Viking)

See also


External links

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