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McLean on stage at the Centennial Concert Hall in 2008
|Born||Andrew Stuart McLean
April 19, 1948
Montreal West, Quebec, Canada
|Died||February 15, 2017
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
|Alma mater||Sir George Williams University|
|Occupation||Radio broadcaster, writer, professor of journalism|
|Notable work||The Vinyl Cafe|
|Spouse(s)||Linda Read (1982–2002)|
|Awards||Officer of the Order of Canada|
Andrew Stuart McLean, OC (April 19, 1948 – February 15, 2017) was a Canadian radio broadcaster, humorist, monologist, and author, best known as the host of the CBC Radio program The Vinyl Cafe. Often described as a "story-telling comic" although his stories addressed both humorous and serious themes, he was known for fiction and non-fiction work which celebrated the decency and dignity of ordinary people, through stories which often highlighted the ability of their subjects, whether real or fictional, to persevere with grace and humour through embarrassing or challenging situations.
McLean was born in Montreal West, the eldest of three children to Australian immigrant parents Andrew Thompson McLean and Margaret Patricia Godkin. McLean was interested in radio programming since he was a young child, when his father bought him a Motorola radio to occupy his time while recovering from sickness. This fascination with radio stayed with McLean throughout his adult life as he pursued a career in media and journalism.
McLean was educated at Lower Canada College in Montreal. He admitted to feeling like an outsider to the other students at the private school, feeling neither athletic enough nor smart enough to fit in. McLean graduated from Sir George Williams University with a B.A. degree in 1971. Following his graduation, he worked in student services for Dawson College, and as campaign manager for Nick Auf der Maur in his first Montreal City Council election.
McLean married Linda Read, a potter, in 1982. They had two children together, Robert and Andrew, and McLean was stepfather to Read's son, Christopher Trowbridge, from her first marriage. McLean and Read later divorced in 2002.
McLean retired in 2004 as a professor at the School of Journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto after 30 years. He was also a sponsor of the YMCA's Camp Kanawana, establishing a charitable fund to provide financial support for underprivileged youth to attend the camp, and served as honorary colonel of the Canadian Armed Forces' 8 Air Maintenance Squadron at CFB Trenton.
The Vinyl Cafe stopped touring and producing new episodes following McLean's diagnosis with melanoma in November 2015. McLean announced on December 13, 2016, that he required a second round of treatment, meaning further delay in producing potential new radio episodes, and that repeats of past shows would stop airing on CBC Radio One effective January 2017 to "make room for others to share their work on the radio." McLean died of cancer on February 15, 2017 in Toronto, aged 68. His archive was donated to McMaster University.
McLean first joined CBC Radio as a researcher for Cross Country Checkup in 1974, later becoming a documentarian for the radio program Sunday Morning. He won an ACTRA Award in 1979 for "Operation White Knight", his Sunday Morning documentary about the Jonestown Massacre. From 1981 until 1984 he was the show's executive producer.
During the 1980s and 1990s he was a frequent contributor to and sometime guest host of Morningside, for which he often produced human interest documentaries and audio essays about everyday people and places; he would later characterize his Morningside work as celebrating "the importance of being unimportant", and as ultimately helping him find his own voice as a writer.
McLean published his first book, a compilation of his work for Morningside, in 1990 under the title The Morningside World of Stuart McLean. The book was a Canadian bestseller and a finalist for the 1990 Toronto Book Awards. He was a contender in 1989 to become co-host with Valerie Pringle of the CBC's television newsmagazine series Midday, but the role went to Ralph Benmergui.
McLean often reported for CBC news programs The Journal and The National, where he focused his reports on human interest stories, talking to "regular people" and delving into their often funny or poignant experiences. These segments about everyday people helped to inspire The Vinyl Cafe, which in the same vein looked at the lives of average Canadians.
In 1994, McLean launched The Vinyl Cafe as a summer series. Following the show's second summer run in 1995, McLean published Stories from the Vinyl Cafe, his first book in that series. The show joined CBC's permanent regular-season schedule in 1997. Although the early stories focused on a diverse group of characters loosely linked through the titular Vinyl Cafe record store, by the time the series became a permanent one the stories were focused more squarely on the store's proprietor, Dave, and his family and friends.
Beginning in 1998, McLean took The Vinyl Cafe on the road to theatres across Canada and the United States. Some stories would be repeated at multiple shows—in particular, an early story about Dave's awkward attempt to cook a turkey for Christmas dinner became one of the most famous and most frequently performed stories of McLean's career—but McLean would often perform slightly different versions of the stories to keep his audiences engaged. One episode of The Vinyl Cafe each year was also dedicated to the "Arthur Awards", McLean's own awards program to honour acts of kindness and community engagement by ordinary Canadians that might otherwise "go unheralded and even unnoticed".
The Vinyl Cafe was broadcast every weekend on CBC Radio, and later as a weekly podcast. McLean's books of stories from The Vinyl Cafe have won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour three times; several albums of his performances of Vinyl Cafe stories were also released. In the 2010s a spinoff edition, Vinyl Café Stories, aired on CBC Radio in a weekday afternoon time-slot, featuring two previously broadcast stories on interrelated themes.
After his death in February 2017, a tribute special, hosted by Michael Enright under the title Canada's Storyteller: A Tribute to Stuart McLean, aired on CBC Radio the next day, and was repeated the following Sunday in The Vinyl Cafe's former timeslot. CBC Radio's documentary series The Doc Project also produced a special episode after McLean's death, reairing his 1979 Sunday Morning documentary "The New Goldrush", while Cross Country Checkup devoted a tribute episode to its own version of the Arthur Awards, asking callers to share stories of acts of kindness that had made a difference in their lives.