This season marks 20 years of The Vinyl Cafe hosted by Stuart McLean and produced by Jess Milton, a show that has become nothing short of a beloved Canadian institution. We recently contacted Stuart to ask him some questions about storytelling and the past and future of the program. We're also giving away three copies of the new book Time Now for The Vinyl Cafe Story Exchange, a collection of favourite stories that have been featured on the show. Email us at [firstname.lastname@example.org] with the subject heading "20 years of The Vinyl Cafe" to be entered into a random draw. CBC contest rules apply. Contest ends Sunday, September 29.
Update: Thank you to everyone who entered! The winners have been contacted.
Q: First off, congratulations on 20 years of The Vinyl Cafe. To what do you attribute the longevity and success of the show?
A: I am as surprised as you are, really. We never planned to go for 20 years. We never planned to do anything really. It has all just grown slowly and organically over the years. I guess people enjoy what we are doing. But you would have to ask them why. I am the only guy in the country who doesn't get to hear the show.
Q: What are the differences and respective challenges when it comes to telling stories on the radio and telling stories in books?
A: Writing for the radio and writing for publication are two different disciplines. The radio work has to be short and essentially linear. There is more space on the page. You can roam and not necessarily in a straight line. I start with the radio scripts and edit them down so they are sparse as I can get them. When it comes time for publication the editing process starts again. Often stuff that was dropped gets put back in.
Q: Of all the stories you've told in 20 years on the show, which ones garnered an overwhelming audience response? And what is one of your personal favourites?
A: Well the Turkey story of course. that seems to be everyone's favourite. Though I am not sure why. I like some of the ones that focus on Dave's son, Sam. I think he is the closest to me. Not the details of his life but the way he moves through it.
Q: The Vinyl Cafe live experience sure is something. Can you share a favourite moment from one of VC's live shows?
A: The interview with Roger Woodword was pretty incredible. Woodward was swept over Niagara Falls when he was a 12-year-old-boy, wearing nothing but a life jacket. His story, and the way he told it, has an intensity and intimacy that makes me tear up to this day. I think we have posted that show on our website. But there have been plenty of others. Telling the story of Dave and the Springhill Mining disaster in Glace Bay. I will never forget that night. I was nervous. I was thinking, who am I to tell them this story? It is their story not mine. But it worked. It was like magic that night. And there was a night at the National Arts Centre with Ed Broadbent, There have been so many special moments.
Q: The new book Time Now for The Vinyl Cafe Story Exchange comes out soon. What are you particularly excited about with this book?
A: It is such a lovely book. It has such a wonderful feel to it. Maybe it's the best book we have ever put out. And I can say that. I didn't write a word of it. All the stories, from all across the country. Some funny, some not funny at all. You are laughing one minute and crying the next. And it all seems to add up to something. You feel like you are connecting to people and through them to the country.
Q: Has your relationship with Dave and Morley, and their kids, changed over the past 20 years?
A: Yes. They have more say in what happens than they used to. In a certain way they write the stories now. I feel like I know them. I don't want to stop writing about them because I don't want to lose touch with them. I don't want to say goodbye.
Q: How would you feel about 20 more years of The Vinyl Cafe?
A: That's the big question, isn't it? When do you stop? There is a certain elegance to stopping early. But there is a certain elegance to longevity too. To slogging on to the end. We talk about this, Jess and I. Back in our 15th season we thought we would stop at 20. That's what we decided. Now we are here we have decided to keep going. For how long? We don't know. But we are kind of joined at the hip, Jess and I. If one of us goes, the other goes too. It will be a mutual decision.
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