Stuart McLean is, well, a master…

Stuart McLean in Sepia Tones Sixteen years ago I created a radio piece called “Phoning the Kremlin” which consisted entirely of a recording of my [failed] attempt to place a call to the [cold war-era] Kremlin in Moscow. Largely because of a delightful collection of operators and “overseas telephone sounds” and some backing music from Supertramp, the piece came off fairly well. Alas all track of the recording has been lost and it exists only in the aural memory of me and the listeners.

A couple of years later I repeated the exercise by attempting to place a call to President Ronald Reagan at a meeting in Reykjavik. I failed again, but got some great tape of a U.S. Marine telling me that, no, I couldn’t speak to Mr. Reagan.

On today’s The Vinyl Cafe, host Stuart McLean demonstrated that he is a master of this art form, which might be called “telephone operator struggle art.”

Today’s episode consisted mostly of McLean’s attempt to get in touch with the Oxford, Nova Scotia family who had won his Christmas contest. Mere words cannot do justice to his audio escapades; suffice to say that it involved telephone operators in Sudbury, Kingston, Charlottetown and Halifax. And a taxi company. And he didn’t fail.

This kind of thing is like gold to a personality like Stuart McLean: he has the perfect combination of wry wit and persistence to take what could be Howard Stern-esque hijinks and transport it to a new level.

I bow before you, Stuart; you are a master.


Kevin O's picture
Kevin O on December 5, 2001 - 14:41 Permalink

What? No kudos to the guy who put you onto it? Oh well….. (chuckle)

Anyway, you’re right. I was quite absorbed in Stuart’s plight as it unfolded. The part that got me was when the operator decided that the phone was “off hook” and interpreted that as someone having accidently left the phone off the hook. It was the dumbest use of failed logic that I could imagine under the circumstances but it goes a long way to explaining why very ordinary things can go so wrong. Why is it that some companies seek out people who are willing to forgo the use of their own intelligence and supplant it with the ooze that gobs down from the top? Some of the actors (and they weren’t acting) in this bit were remarkable for their complete lack of ingunity and personality. I was a bit perterbed that Charlottetown turned out to be the “coldest” but not a bit surprised.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on December 5, 2001 - 16:12 Permalink

Kevin is right: I should give credit to him: he phoned me up on Sunday afternoon to alert me to the Stuart Mclean piece, and I was able to listen to the CBC Toronto web stream, having already missed it locally. Beware, however, that Kevin has a finely tuned sense of when it’s possible and correct to call me on Sunday morning/afternoon; his behaviour should not be taken as a general signal that’s it’s okay to call on Sunday morning/afternoon. If you need to know the guidelines, talk to Kevin.