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Stuart McLean on Hamilton, his fans and The Vinyl Cafe's future

Stuart McLean stopped by Hamilton Wednesday, including a stroll down Locke St.

Stuart McLean brings Dave, Morley, Sam and Stephanie to Hamilton

For 19 seasons, Stuart Mclean and The Vinyl Cafe have shared stories of family, friendship and folly on radio and at live shows across the country. (CBC)

Stuart McLean, Canadian writer and distinct radio voice, stopped by Hamilton Wednesday night as part of his Vinyl Cafe Christmas tour. The show played to a nearly-sold-out audience, but before the show, McLean made some time to stroll along one of his favourite Hamilton haunts.

"We really love going to Locke Street, if we have the time," McLean said. "There’s the book store and the bread bar; it’s a nice little place to wander around and see stuff."

Steeltown is always a favourite stop on the Vinyl Cafe tour, said McLean, who stopped by Epic Books on Locke St. to sign some books during his visit.

"We feel really feel welcome in Hamilton. The audience has steadily grown," he said.

For 19 seasons, The Vinyl Cafe has shared stories of family, friendship and folly across the country, and even in the U.S. and Britain. McLean’s stories of Dave and Morley — a fictional Toronto couple with two children, Sam and Stephanie — has captured the imaginations of listeners for nearly two decades.

The show, which also features letters, essays and music, airs in towns from St. John's, Newfoundland, to Seattle, Washington, reaching more  than one million listeners each weekend.

You could win a copy of Stuart McLean's new book, Revenge of the Vinyl Cafe, by dropping off a donation of non-perishable food for the food bank at CBC Hamilton's office at 118 James St. North. The contest closes Friday, Dec. 21, at 11 a.m.

Since 1998, McLean has brought the show to live theatre venues across North America, with the Christmas tour being especially popular.

McLean said he was looking forward to the Hamilton show because it was one of the last stops on the Christmas tour this year.

"In the home stretch it gets more and more fun. We get better and we start to relax. There are a couple of shows that stick, and Hamilton’s one of them."

New Vinyl Cafe patrons

The radio show's audience is growing and — perhaps surprisingly — getting younger, according to McLean. It’s not an easy feat in an age when video games, social networking and smart phones often trump sitting down to listen to a radio program.

McLean said the show has enjoyed continued success because the audience, young and old, connects to the stories in their own way.

"People seem to gather up around the stories," he said.

"Two sisters in different parts of the country may listen to the same story and then call each other up to talk about what they heard. That’s what makes me happiest, the way people seem to connect to the stories."

But McLean said he doesn’t spend much time worrying about audience numbers: his main concern is the characters and their stories.

"I love what I’m doing. I want to know what happens to the family and the only way I can know what happens is to write about them," he said.

The Christmas show featured new Dave and Morley stories, McLean assured, including a visit to their daughter’s boyfriend’s family for dinner.

"The stories come to me through the chracters and understanding what they may be struggling with at this point in their lives. I feel like they’re real people in real places in their lives and I think about them and wonder about them."

The audience wonders about Dave and Morley, too, coming out in droves for the sold-out live shows as well as scooping up print collections of the stories. The latest book, Revenge of the Vinyl Cafe, is a collection of tales of terror (in the Vinyl Cafe form), from Dave’s fear of dolls to Morley’s aversion to drop-in visits.

The show is nearing its 20th year, but there are no thoughts of wrapping up any time soon. McLean said his close connection to the characters makes it hard to imagine The Vinyl Cafe coming to a close some day.

"I will feel bereft if it ends. I’ll miss them," he said. Legions of fans would feel the same.

"I can’t imagine saying goodbye. They really feel real to me."