When The Vinyl Café premieres on WFYI (90.1) at 10 p.m. New Year's Eve, listeners may feel like they're walking in on the middle of a movie. After all, the show is now in its 11th season in Canada, where the main characters, Dave, Morley and their children, are old friends to listeners.
To make things more comfortable, here's a quick primer, courtesy of the show's host, Stuart McLean: Dave, who runs The Vinyl Café record store, grew up in Cape Breton, left home after high school and became a roadie, then a tour manager. He's somewhere around 50 years old. He met Morley at a skating rink in New England while he was running a tour featuring both ? and the Mysterians and Bobby Goldsboro. The couple has two children, college-age Stephanie and Sam, who's 11 or 12.
Dave's store (motto: "We may not be big, but we're small") is in a never-specified location. "People who live in small towns write and tell me they believe it to be in a small town," McLean said. "People who live in big cities tell me they believe it to be in a big city. I believe it to be in a big city, but it doesn't seem to matter. What matters is that they are moving through a world somewhere, and the stories are about the things they come up against and the problems and troubles of daily living."
McLean said The Vinyl Café began as a studio show, with him spinning records and telling stories. During its fourth season, his producer suggested doing concerts with live music. Now they do about half their shows in the studio and half in front of live audiences in theaters and arenas across Canada - and soon, perhaps, the U.S. There are Vinyl Café books (Home From the Vinyl Café: A Year in Stories was released in the states in May) and CDs. And Phil Rosenthal, executive producer of Everybody Loves Raymond, even has designs on turning The Vinyl Café into an animated TV show.
The radio show, which will air regularly at 8 p.m. Saturdays on WFYI beginning Jan. 7, features both McLean's stories and music by up-and-coming or little-known groups. Because the show travels and is based around fictional stories, it often gets compared with Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion.
"I'm flattered by that," McLean said. "I think he's a huge talent. When we went into concerts, we were influenced by Keillor's format. We're plowing the same field, but we farm differently. We're both writers who tell stories on the radio and include music, but that's like saying Ed McBain and William Shakespeare plow the same field."
What will be great, he said, is if The Vinyl Café can attract the same kind of loyal fans Keillor has.
"We get 700,000 listeners every weekend, which is enormous. If we extrapolated that to your country, that would be 7 million listeners. That's pretty great. I'm very pleased it's starting to find its way into the states. It's very interesting for me to be engaged in a conversation with America ... I feel like America and Canada are these two brothers who have wandered apart, so there's a special feeling about being able to come together after all these years and to learn about each other."