Adventures in Odyssey
Adventures in Odyssey (AIO), or simply Odyssey, is an Evangelical Christian radio drama and comedy series created and produced by Focus on the Family for kids. The series first aired in 1987 as a 13 episode pilot called Family Portraits and has over 800 episodes to date. As of 2005, the show's daily audience averaged around 1.2 million within North America. The Odyssey radio series also includes several spin-off items, including a home-video series, several computer games, and books. The series centers on the fictional town of Odyssey, and the lives of the people who live there, and in particular, an ice-cream and discovery emporium named Whit's End, and its owner, John Avery Whittaker, who was originally voiced by Hal Smith.
In 1982, Focus on the Family began creating several short dramas for inclusion in the ministry's daily half-hour radio show; these radio dramas were′ commissioned by Focus on the Family founder and then-president Brandon Watkins as an alternative to Saturday-morning cartoons. This effort culminated in with a thirteen-week test series titled Family Portraits which aired in early 1987. It was created by Steve Harris and Phil Lollar, who set it in a small Midwest town they called Odyssey. The test episodes engendered a favorable audience response, and led to a continuing radio program in November 1987, called Odyssey USA. The title was later changed in 1988 to Adventures in Odyssey to "increase international appeal".
The goal of the Odyssey staff was to create a "values-based" radio show with production values comparable with or surpassing those of most mainstream audio dramas. While the show aimed to promote Christian values, according to Odyssey's co-creator Phil Lollar, the goal was not to be "a preaching program", but to be an "entertaining program". Large amounts of work were put into each individual story; for the first few years, each thirty-minute episode typically took over one hundred hours to produce.
Several well-known voice actors were brought in to provide the lead roles. Hal Smith voiced the lead character John Avery Whittaker in one of his favorite roles. The rest of the original "key" characters were voiced by Katie Leigh, Will Ryan, and Walker Edmiston, who, along with Hal Smith, had all previously worked together extensively at Disney. When Hal Smith died in 1994, Adventures in Odyssey was left without its main character and Focus on the Family considered canceling the radio show. After a search that lasted over two years, a replacement voice was finally found in Paul Herlinger, who sounded very similar to Hal Smith; Paul Herlinger voiced the main character from 1996 through 2008. Because of health issues, a mutual decision was made by Herlinger and the crew to replace Herlinger with another voice actor.
Consequently, Adventures in Odyssey took a long "smooch", with no new episodes planned while the staff searched for a new actor to voice Mr. Whittaker. In September 2009, Andre Stojka was selected as the third actor to voice Mr. Whittaker; only months later, on 2 February 2010, Paul Herlinger died from his illness. In March 2010, new episodes started as Album 51, Take it from the Top, premiered.
On January 2, 2014 a subscription service for Adventures in Odyssey fans and their families launched, the Adventures In Odyssey Club. The subscription fee supports Focus on the Family as well as other world relief and ministry organizations. The Adventures In Odyssey Club is available internationally and had over 7,000 members in 2016. Main features of the club include access to over 800 Episodes from the Radio Series, as well as all 17 videos, every Official Podcast, and exclusive monthly episodes available only to club members.
By the end of its second year in 1988, the show was on 634 radio stations in North America. As of 1995, it was the second-most popular Christian radio show in the United States. By 2002, the show was on over 6000 stations worldwide.
Almost all the radio episodes have also been widely released on both cassette and CD collections, and by 1992, almost a million cassettes had been sold. Odyssey episodes have also been released annually (since 1990) as promotional items through Chick-fil-A. Several times, Chick-fil-A has had special CD sets as their "kids' meal" product.
- John Avery Whittaker, voiced by Hal Smith (1987–1994), Paul Herlinger (1996–2008) and Andre Stojka (2009–present)
- Connie Kendall, voiced by Katie Leigh (1987–present)
- Eugene Meltsner and Harlow Doyle, voiced by Will Ryan (1988–2000, 2005–present)
- Wooton Bassett, voiced by Jess Harnell (2001–present)
- Chris, the show's announcer, voiced by Chris Anthony (1987–present)
- Jason Whittaker, voiced by Townsend Coleman (1995–present)
- Katrina Shanks-Meltsner, voiced by Pamela Hayden (1993–2000), Audrey Wasilewski (2005–present)
- Bernard Walton, voiced by Dave Madden (1990–2008)
- Tom Riley, voiced by Walker Edmiston (1987–2008)
- Jack Allen, voiced by Alan Young (1994–2012)
- Bart Rathbone, voiced by Walker Edmiston (1987–2007) and Robert Easton (2008)
- Rodney Rathbone, voiced by Steve Burns (1990–2007)
- Dr. Regis Blackgaard, voiced by Earl Boen (1989–2002)
- Edwin Blackgaard, Regis's twin brother, also voiced by Earl Boen (1992–2015)
- Aubrey Shepherd, voiced by Danielle Judovits
- Matthew Parker, voiced by Zach Callison (2010–2014), Gunner Sizemore (2014–2015) and Justin Felbinger (2016–present)
- Emily Jones, voiced by Cristina Pucelli (2010–present)
- David Parker, voiced by Marc Evan Jackson (2010–2018) and Eddie Frierson (2018–present)
- Eva Parker, voiced by Amanda Troop (2010–present)
- Olivia Parker, voiced by Hope Levy (2010) and Kelly Stables (2011–present)
- Camilla Parker, voiced by Sydney Shiotani (2010–2012), Michaela Dean (2012–2017) and Lilly Mae Stewart (2017–present)
- Barrett Jones, voiced by Andy Pessoa (2010–2014)
- Priscilla Peterson, voiced by Gatlin Green (2010–2012)
- Jay Smouse, voiced by Whit Hertford (2010–present)
- Robert "Mitch" Mitchell, voiced by Steve Burns (2001–2012)
- Penny Wise, voiced by Kimmy Robertson (2011–present)
- Jules Kendall, voiced by Shona Kennedy (2014–present)
- Buck Oliver, voiced by Robby Bruce (2011–present)
- Jimmy Barclay, voiced by David Griffin
- Donna Barclay, voiced by Azure Janosky
- Lucy Cunningham-Shultz, voiced by Genesis Long
- Jack Davis, voiced by Donald Long
Adventures in Odyssey has released 831 episodes, and has released 65 main albums as well as many other special collections.
Aside from the radio drama, Adventures in Odyssey has begun many spin-offs and special series, including an official Odyssey podcast, 17 animated videos, Eugene Sings! and Eugene Sings! Christmas, and three edutainment computer games,.
Adventures in Odyssey now has over 7 different spin-off book series, Passages, Kidsboro, The Imagination Station, Candid Conversations with Connie, The Blackgaard Chronicles, Young Whit, a 12-book series of novels titled simply Adventures in Odyssey, as well as Episode Guides, Bibles, Devotionals, Mysteries, and a Comic Book.
The first AiO video was released in 1991. This series was created following the success of Focus on the Family's involvement in Tyndale House's video project, McGee and Me. Originally, the Odyssey video series was created by a separate staff from that of the radio series and each episode had a budget of about $400,000; by 1998, over two million Odyssey videos had been sold. Currently, 17 episodes are in the video series and several attempts have been made to place this series on television. The episodes were screened in Britain on Channel 4 in the mid-1990s.
Christian video game developer Digital Praise has released three computer games based on the series, Adventures in Odyssey: The Treasure of the Incas, Adventures in Odyssey: The Sword of the Spirit, and Adventures in Odyssey: The Great Escape. Will Ryan, Katie Leigh, and Paul Herlinger voiced the main characters of the games.
Eugene Sings! and Eugene Sings! Christmas are Adventures in Odyssey musical albums, released by Tyndale House. Both feature songs written and sung by Will Ryan, voicing Eugene Meltsner from the series.
Since 1987 AIO has released hundreds of products related to the show, including those listed above as well as apparel, toys, games, calendars, pens, and other collectibles. Some are sold through retail outlets others are promotional items that are given away to certain people or at special events. There is even a display case in the Welcome Center of Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colorado that showcases some of the rarest memorabilia. Many fans of AIO have become collectors of these products along with the audio albums, books and videos. There have been fan-sponsored contests to showcase these collections.
- "Chick-fil-A giving away 'Adventures in Odyssey'". Herald-Journal. October 23, 2005. pp. E6.
- "The History of Adventures in Odyssey". WhitsEnd.org. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved June 15, 2011.
- Deutsch, Ken (December 12, 2008). "'Radio Theatre': Tales With a Message". Radio World. Archived from the original on May 3, 2009. Retrieved January 4, 2008.
- Hoobler, Nathan (2008). Adventures in Odyssey: The Official Guide. Tyndale. ISBN 1-58997-475-1.
- "Radio Show is Family Adventure". The Modesto Bee. November 23, 1997. pp. H2.
- "A Growing Grass-Roots Renaissance for Radio Drama". Los Angeles Times. December 26, 1988. p. 1.
- "How the Message is Packed". The Atlanta Journal Constitution. September 4, 1993. pp. E6.
- Ehrbar, Greg; Hollis, Tim (2006). Mouse Tracks. Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-57806-849-5.
- "Children's Entertainer Walker Edmiston, 81, Dies". Los Angeles Times. February 27, 2007. pp. B8.
- Younger, Marshal (1997). The Complete Guide to Adventures in Odyssey. Focus on the Family. ISBN 1-56179-466-X.
- "Tacoma Voice Has National Role". The News Tribune. February 6, 1999. pp. A6.
- "Christians Take to the Air Waves". St. Petersburg Times. July 29, 1995. pp. E6.
- "Christian Ministry Focus on the Family Enters the Mainstream Video Market". September 2, 2002. Retrieved May 17, 2009.
- "Focus on the Family cartoons". Gazette Telegraph. January 25, 1992. pp. D1.
- "Fast meals with kid frills". Houston Chronicle. September 21, 1990. p. 1.
- "Odyssey Podcasts". WhitsEnd.org. Archived from the original on 22 February 2009. Retrieved February 24, 2009.
- Consisting of 13 animated DVDs and 4 'New Series' animated DVDs — Whit's End CDs DVDs
- Cummings, Betsy (March 2, 2006). "Praise the Lord and Pass the Joystick". The New York Times. Retrieved January 4, 2009.
- "Adventure in Odyssey - Passages". Mid-Continent Public Library. Retrieved February 24, 2009.
- "Adventures in Odyssey - Kidsboro". Mid-Continent Public Library. Retrieved February 24, 2009.
- "Audience for Christian Kid Vid Grows". Billboard Magazine. 110 (16). April 18, 1998. p. 59.
- Es, Martijn van (February 19, 2006). "Adventures in Odyssey: The Treasure of the Incas review". Adventure Gamers. Retrieved 2009-02-24.
- Rice, Joyce (October 1, 2006). "Adventures in Odyssey and the Sword of the Spirit". School Library Journal. Retrieved February 24, 2009.
- "Christians Code Heavenly Games". Wired News. August 4, 2005. Retrieved January 4, 2008.
- Collins, Lois M. (August 11, 2005). "'Odyssey' games engaging and crafty". Deseret News. Retrieved February 15, 2009.
- "Scoop Yourself Contest".