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Radio / The Vinyl Cafe

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Stuart McLean.

"We may not be big, but we are small."

The Vinyl Cafe was a weekly variety show on CBC Radio One, hosted by Stuart McLean until his death in 2017. In 2020, the CBC began re-releasing episodes in podcast form due to popular demand.

Every episode, Stuart plays songs from up-and-coming Canadian bands, while interspersing the music with his funny and nostalgic monologues on the often-overlooked and beautiful things in life. In addition, there are regular features like "The Vinyl Cafe Story Exchange" where listeners are invited to send in true personal stories to potentially be read on air, and the annual "Arthur Awards" to commend exceptional small good deeds performed by ordinary people.

But the most famous segment of the show is Stuart's series of Slice of Life stories on the life of Dave, the owner of a small record store, and his family. Told in his signature wistful and quirky style, the stories made Stuart McLean nationally famous; his story of Dave's adventure in cooking a Christmas turkey has already became a classic Christmas special on CBC.

The show is presented in one of two formats: studio episodes recorded in Toronto where McLean tells his stories while playing recorded music and performance episodes recorded on location in various venues with live audiences on his frequent tours predominately throughout Canada with a handful of US playdates with live musical performances. The main other difference is that for podcasting purposes, copyright laws dictate that studio episodes cannot be reproduced with the music recordings while the live audience episodes with their stage performances can be made available in their entirety.

Tropes about the show in general:

  • Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: Stuart pronounces "schedule" with a soft "ch" and emphasizes the "p" in "raspberry". So many listeners wrote in about how they found his pronunciation strange that he dedicated an entire segment to speak with the editor in charge of the Canadian edition of the Oxford English Dictionary and they discussed the historical origins of Canadian English and how Stuart represents a small group of Canadians whose pronunciations reflect their country's British roots.
  • Animated Adaptation: A credit for one is listed on Rough Draft Studios' website, but whether or not it actually exists beyond the listing is unknown.
  • Arcadia: One of Stuart's main loves is small rural towns; he has a tendency to wax very poetic over them. One of his first books (which he occasionally reads from for his story segments) is composed of a series of in-depth portraits about small towns throughout Canada—the book clocks in at 500 pages.
  • Canada, Eh?: The show is dedicated to promoting Canadian singer/songwriters. Also McLean's accent becomes prominent with certain words (i.e., pronouncing "been" as "bean").
  • Letters to the Editor: The Vinyl Cafe Story Exchange.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Stuart's default tone.
  • Strictly Formula: The live shows had a standard format: Stuart would have a monologue about the local area, the guest musical act would perform a number, Stuart would then read a story from the Vinyl Cafe Story Exchange, then the musical act would perform again, there would be a Dave and Morley story, and the musical act would perform a final number before Stuart calls an end of the show with the credits announced.

Tropes about Dave and Morley Stories:

  • Affluent Ascetic: Dave owns a memorabilia collection that would make him very wealthy if he ever decided to sell it off. Instead, he chooses to live off the modest income that comes in from the music store and only occasionally sells pieces of his collection when he absolutely has to.
  • Black Comedy: The entirety of "Dave Buys a Coffin", especially the opening funeral scene.
  • Brick Joke: Used in many stories, such as the roadkill in "Christmas on the Road" and the scent trick with the lightbulbs in "Dave Cooks the Turkey".
  • Bumbling Dad: Dave.
  • Carrying a Cake: One of Dave's misadventures involves being entrusted with a wedding cake, then eating it while trapped in a dumbwaiter at an old mansion. And the time he offered to make the fruitcake for the hockey rink fundraiser.
  • Comic-Book Time: Downplayed. Dave and his family have aged progressively over the years, but at a very slow rate.
  • Dads Can't Cook: "Dave Cooks the Turkey". Or rather, doesn't cook the turkey, but very creatively.
  • Doom It Yourself: In "Odd Jobs", Dave tries to put in a new outlet where Morley wants to plug in the toaster. It eventually morphs into an entire home renovation project with Dave and multiple professionals working full-time for six months. After they've finally finished, it's revealed they never bothered to move the outlet for the toaster.
  • Eccentric Townsfolk: By the dozens.
  • Fanservice/Fan Disservice: In "Float Tank", Stuart describes Kenny Wong as wearing a speedo and having a sagging belly. The audience is audibly uncomfortable at the description so Stuart immediately backtracks and describes Kenny as having a sculpted body while having Dave lampshade it to the audience's raucous laughter.
  • Flashback: GivenMcLean's fascination with the past, it is his signature style. He'll often put half of the story on hold to allow for a very extensive digression on a character's background. In one of the anthologies, there is a story with a flashback embedded in a flashback.
  • Foil: Mary Turlington, a neurotically perfectionist accountant, versus Dave, a laid-back rock roadie who seems to actually be enjoying his life.
  • Gaslighting: Kenny Wong and his father's plan to stop a racist from coming to their restaurant without making a big ruckus. The plan unfolded over the course of a entire year as they imperceptibly changed the restaurant to make him subconsciously feel more and more uncomfortable until he finally left on his own.
  • Happily Married: Dave and Morley's next-door neighbors, Eugene and Maria Conte. They're an elderly Italian couple and still very much in love after several decades of marriage.
  • Hidden Depths/Retired Badass: Dave tends to pass himself off as a harmless bumbler, but he used to be a successful touring manager to some of the craziest and most tempestuous of rock bands, so he can call up his experiences of controlling rock and roll musicians when needed.
    • Most people assume that Dave is merely the owner of a used record store that is lucky to turn a small profit. They don't realize that he owns several commercial properties in town and possesses a music memorabilia collection that is so valuable, the big auction houses are constantly hounding him.
  • Hilarity Ensues: Especially in "Dave Cooks the Turkey".
  • Lighter and Softer: The early stories tends to be quite dark, but his stories has shifted exclusively to light comic fare about the Zany Schemes of Dave and his neighbours.
  • No Full Name Given: We never learn Dave and his family's last name. One guest character even addresses Morley as "Mrs. Dave", to the audience's amusement.
  • Retcon: Probably the fastest example in all of history. After describing Kenny Wong as being grossly out of shape, Stuart immediately goes back and describes him as being in top physical condition because his audience groaned at the original line.
  • Running Gag: If a story involves a turkey, someone will invariably bring up Dave's various failed attempts at preparing one for dinner.
  • Short-Distance Phone Call: In "Dorm Days," Stephanie and her roommate Becky spend a great deal of time e-mailing or Instant Messaging each other while they're both in the room. And since the room is very small (as freshman dorm rooms usually are), they're literally in arm's reach of each other during these conversations.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Dave and Mary Turlington do not get along. Sometimes they deliberately go after each other but they're usually at odds due to Dave's bumbling and Mary's uptightness causing hilarious personality clashes.
  • Tongue on the Flagpole: Stuart McLean plays with this trope in one of his stories. A man gets stuck on the roof in the middle of winter. He contemplates peeing on the TV antenna, though knowledge of this trope prevents him from doing so.