Stuart McLean, Canadian Radio Legend, Dies at 68

Stuart McLean photographed in his home on Nov. 17, 2013.
Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Stuart McLean photographed in his home on Nov. 17, 2013.      

Legendary broadcaster Stuart McLean, a member of the Order of Canada and best known as the host of CBC Radio’s The Vinyl Café which was syndicated to some 80 U.S. public radio stations, died in Toronto Wednesday (Feb. 15) of melanoma. He was 68.

“On the Vinyl Cafe and in communities across the country, Stuart McLean told uniquely Canadian stories,” tweeted Prime Minister Trudeau (see below). “We’ll miss his humour and humanity.”

As word continues to spread about his death, artists are starting to react on social media.

“This is terrible news,” wrote Polaris Music Prize winner and Arcade Fire collaborator Owen Pallett on Twitter. “Stuart was a great man and a great friend, my heart is broken.”

“RIP The Vinyl Cafe's brilliant Stuart McLean,” tweeted singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith. “Had the pleasure of doing his show on a number of occasions.”

The Vinyl Café went into repeats in November 2015, after McLean was diagnosed with cancer. In December of 2016, he announced he would require further treatment.

“As many of you know, I was diagnosed with melanoma a year ago. At the time we figured the treatment would be swift. What can I say ... things don't always go exactly as planned…So the plan is for me to begin another round of immunotherapy treatment in January,” he said in a message posted to the CBC web site

“I don't think airing repeats is fair to those of you who listen every week and have been so loyal over these past two decades,” he said in the letter. “Nor is it fair to the writers and producers who are busy creating new work. There are lots of people creating great work, and it deserves to be heard and enjoyed.

“So, for the time being, I'm going to step aside and make room for others to share their work on the radio. Starting in January 2017, we won't be airing The Vinyl Cafe on CBC Radio, Sirius XM 169 or podcast. Public Radio stations in the USA will be airing episodes of Vinyl Cafe Stories until the end of February 2017.”

The Vinyl Café announced McLean’s passing on its Facebook page this afternoon, and its Web site posted a longer message that included a link to his charity of choice, The Stuart McLean Camp Kanawana Fund, where he worked for five summers. 

“We are heartbroken,” it read in part. “But we are also finding comfort in memories of our dear friend. Stuart always emphasized that the world is a good place, full of good people, trying to do their best. He believed in people’s extraordinary capacity for love and generosity. And he had faith in our ability to work together for the common good…

“Stuart connected us – to our country and to each other. He entertained us, he made us think, he made us smile. Occasionally he made us cry.”

The Montreal-born McLean graduated from Sir George Williams University in 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts and worked as a campaign manager for Nick Auf der Maur, the journalist-turned-politician father of Hole’s bassist, Melissa. He began his radio career as a researcher for CBC Radio One’s Cross Country Checkup, before getting into radio documentaries for the station’s Sunday Morning. He then moved on to CBC’s Morningside for seven years as a regular contributor and occasional guest host.

He published his first book in 1990, entitled The Morningside World of Stuart McLean, which became a Canadian bestseller, and followed it up in 1992 with Welcome Home: Travels in Small Town Canada, winner of the Canadian Authors Association for best non-fiction book in 1993.

In 1994, he launched the Vinyl Café as a summer series, and put out his first Stories from the Vinyl Café book. The show became part of CBC’s regular schedule in 1997 and the next year starting taking it on the road to theaters across Canada and into the U.S.

His 10 Vinyl Café books all became Canadian bestsellers, selling more than one million copies and won numerous awards. They have also been published in the U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand.

In 2011 McLean was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.  He was a professor emeritus at Toronto’s Ryerson University in Toronto and former director of the broadcast division of the School of Journalism. He also served as Honorary Colonel of the 8th Air Maintenance Squadron at 8 Wing, Trenton from 2005 to 2008.
In McLean’s most recent message to his listeners -- in which he reiterated his word from a year ago that he expected this to be “just a bump in the road, not the end of the road” --  he concluded with the lines: “In the meantime, look after yourselves and each other. And know that this isn't goodbye. It's just ... so long for now.”

CBC Radio One will air an hour-long tribute to McLean Thursday (Feb. 16) at 1 p.m. There will be a public remembrance at a later date. 

See social media reaction to McLean's passing below.