Adventures in Odyssey
- For the album of the same name, see Adventures in Odyssey (album). For the live-action Hindi TV series, see Adventures in Odyssey (Hindi).
Adventures in Odyssey, commonly abbreviated AIO or simply Odyssey, is an Evangelical Christian-themed radio drama/comedy series created by Phil Lollar and Steve Harris for Focus on the Family in 1987.
The series centers around the fictional town of Odyssey; in particular, the owner, employees, and patrons of an ice cream and discovery emporium called "Whit's End." Episodes range from purely comedic episodes to extremely melodramatic arc episodes, but nearly always feature thematic and direct references to the Bible. Characters openly discuss Christianity in the context of individual episodes, and certain episodes present reenactments of Bible stories.
Now having released 79 albums, for 36 years AIO has spanned Expression error: Unrecognized punctuation character ",". half-hour radio episodes, 13 pilot episodes, 17 animated videos, 127 books, 2 music albums, and a few computer games, in addition to related merchandise and the Passages spin-off book series. The show can be heard on hundreds of radio stations in the United States, Canada and around the world.
The idea of AIO began in the mid-1980s with Steve Harris, then Coordinator of Promotion with Focus on the Family's Broadcasting Department. The VP of Focus on the Family along with other production staff was discussing ideas for the upcoming Christmas broadcasts when Steve Harris suggested a radio drama. Harris, with consent of Focus on the Family executives Mike Trout and Bobbie Valentine, decided to produce a Christmas-themed radio drama called #FD1: “Spare Tire” for airing during the 1983 holiday season. The drama, which featured only two actors, was a "smashing success", and paved the way for a second and third Christmas drama, the 1984 #FD2: “House Guest” and the 1985 #FD3: “Gone Fishing”. Both of these dramas included actor Hal Smith, who would later portray AIO main character John Avery Whittaker, and Chuck Bolte, who would portray George Barclay.
In the spring of 1986, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson interviewed Bruce Wilkinson on the subject of media influence in modern society. Wilkinson persuaded Dobson that complaining about media programming was not enough — that Christians should produce their own programming as a replacement.
In response, Dobson called on Steve Harris to launch a radio series. Focus on the Family hired Phil Lollar, a filmmaker and screenwriter, and Harris and Lollar began to work on creating the program, but disagreements abounded concerning the show's format. Initial plans for a variety show faded; eventually, the two decided on a "30-minute weekly drama/comedy program set in a small town, centering on the problems, foibles, antics, relationships, and goings-on of the people with the town."
The two then established the setting, disagreeing on Oregon or Ohio (but selecting the latter). Lollar named the town "Odyssey" after seeing William F. Buckley's United Nations Journal: A Delegate's Odyssey on his bookshelf. Next, the name of the program's main character was chosen. To decide on his name, Harris and Lollar opened up a phonebook and rifled through the pages, finally making it to the W section. They decided on John Avery Whittaker. "Whit's End" was created, and Lollar wrote detailed histories and descriptions of Odyssey, John Whittaker, and Whit's End, most of which was compiled into the beginning of The Complete Guide. By mid-1986, Focus on the Family approved the show's description, and hired a new writer, Susan McBride. In early fall, Focus on the Family decided to finance a 13-episode test series, Family Portraits, which would determine whether the idea would fly or fail. Harris, Lollar, and McBride wrote the pilot episode, #FP01: “Whit's Visitor” during November 1986; it was produced by Focus on the Family's Bob Luttrell in December 1986, and aired on January 5, 1987.
Focus on the Family received over 4,000 positive responses from listeners, fueling the show's development. Joe Glauberg, a staff writer for Happy Days and Mork and Mindy, was brought in to help generate creative direction. The final Family Portraits episode, #FP13: “A Simple Addition (FP)”, aired on April 13, 1987, leaving the entire summer for Harris and Lollar to move the series from testing stage to full-time production.
Over the summer of 1987, production moved, along with the rest of Focus on the Family, from Arcadia, California to Pomona. The new show, called Odyssey USA (OUSA), retained only two main characters from Family Portraits: John Whittaker and Tom Riley; the pilot, #1: “Whit's Flop”, premiered on November 21, 1987.
The First Decade - 1986 to 1996
The first major change in Odyssey USA occurred in April 1988, after only 19 episodes of the new program. Focus on the Family Broadcasting VP Mike Trout argued that the inclusion of "USA" in the program's name would alienate listeners outside the United States (and, in particular, in Canada). This resulted in a month-long transition, with the title of the show changing at first to just Odyssey. This title didn't last long. The phrase "Adventures in Odyssey" was first heard in episode 23 and starting with episode 25 in May 1988, the title officially became Adventures in Odyssey. (All available OUSA and Odyssey episodes have been relabeled, except for a few episodes in The Officer Harley Collection.)
The program also gained recurring characters; a feature that Family Portraits lacked (other than Whit). Most important were the introductions of Connie Kendall, Eugene Meltsner, and the Barclay family, as well as more appearances of Tom Riley. A few Family Portraits episodes were rewritten and aired as AIO episodes with similar stories but different characters.
The program also took many creative leaps and bounds almost right from the start. The show saw 29 albums released in that time starting with "Family Portraits" and ending with "Welcome Home." Within that time many story arcs were introduced including the infamous Blackgaard saga, the conversion of Connie, and the history of Eugene.
The first decade — lasting through December 1996 — saw production of 372 AIO episodes.
The Second Decade and on
After 10 years of nonstop production, the format and schedule of production needed a change. Therefore, a break was called and from December 1996 to September 1997 production halted on Adventures in Odyssey.
When the show came back there were three significant changes.
First, was that Hal Smith had obviously passed on and Paul Herlinger took over the voice of John Whittaker. The first decade had ended with Whit making a very welcome return to Odyssey and it seemed the perfect place to step back and brain storm about where the show would go from there.
Secondly, almost all of the normal child actors were not brought back including Fabio Stephens (Curt Stevens), Justin Morgan (Isaac Morton), Joseph Cammaroto (Oscar Peterson), and Genni Long (Lucy Cunningham-Schultz). The only remaining "child" was Rodney Rathbone. Other main characters were brought back such as Tom and Connie. All of the old story lines had been wrapped up and it was time to introduce new characters or flush out the older ones such as Jack Allen and Jason, to make the show fresher and hopefully more accessible to new listeners.
Finally, production turned into a system more like television complete with a season premiere and finale.
There was also a hiatus from November 1998 to September 1999, though four new episodes aired in the spring of 1999.
Officer David Harley
One of the most controversial decisions made on the show involved a character by the name of Officer David Harley, played by Will Ryan (who also voiced Eugene Meltsner). During the time Officer Harley lived in Odyssey, he appeared in more episodes than anyone else besides Whit.
He made his first appearance in the third AIO episode, #3: “Lights Out at Whit's End”. His final appearance was in #70 – #71: “The Return of Harley”.
His character was one of a local Police Officer who was not-too-bright, but with a good heart and good intentions. His appearance on the show generated some negative response from parents concerned about how his persona would send the wrong message about real police officers. Although the staff of Adventures in Odyssey didn't agree with the criticism, they ended up having the character move out of Odyssey where he would be seen less often. For the next few years, Officer Harley appeared in one 2-part episode and was referenced in several other episodes.
Officer Harley's permanent disappearance occurred shortly before the beginning of the Adventures in Odyssey video project. Because of the multiple ongoing projects, the team was in need of scripts for new radio episodes. To solve this problem, they decided to re-record several of the older Officer Harley episodes with other characters filling in for him. This allowed for several new episodes during this busy time, and also essentially removed Officer Harley from Odyssey continuity. The majority of the shows that Officer Harley appeared in were then re-recorded and re-aired under different titles with another character, such as Harlow Doyle or Eugene, filling in for Officer Harley.
Once the older episodes were re-recorded, the original Odyssey album was discontinued, and replaced with "The Early Classics". It featured several of the original episodes with new wraparounds by Chris Anthony, along with the re-recorded versions of the Officer Harley episodes. Today only three episodes that include Officer Harley are still readily available, and the original albums containing other episodes are something of a collector's piece. In total, the number of unreleased Odyssey episodes containing Officer Harley amounted to twelve. Die-hard fans continually requested that the episodes be made available outside of a rare album, so in 2014, those twelve episodes were edited slightly (to remove references by Chris in the end of the episodes, revealing what next week's would be) and compiled into The Officer Harley Collection, available exclusively on the Adventures in Odyssey Club.
The whole affair concerning Harley was assurance that Focus on the Family listened to feedback by removing Officer Harley, but later bringing him back in the form of Harlow Doyle.
The Voice of Whit
In 1994, the voice of Whit, Hal Smith, died unexpectedly of a heart attack. This unfortunate event left the AIO team with a predicament as the voice of AIO's main character was gone.
A number of yet-unaired episodes had been recorded, including #266: “It Began with a Rabbit's Foot”, which was Hal Smith's final episode he recorded. This gave the AIO writers time to plot a course of action. Beginning in episode #274: “First-Hand Experience”, two of the show's main characters, Eugene and Bernard, left on a trip to California. This six-episode arc, which followed Eugene and Bernard's trip, gave the writers over a month to decide the fate of John Whittaker back in Odyssey.
Eugene and Bernard returned to Odyssey in episode #280: “Gone...”, and learned that Whit has taken a position in Israel with the Universal Press Foundation's Missions Board, and that due to the urgent nature of the vacancy, Whit was scheduled to leave that day. When Eugene and Bernard discovered Whit left; they raced to the airport, only to have Whit depart just after they arrive. The AIO staff used several clips of Whit from past episodes, in addition to portions of a tape Hal Smith sent to the AIO staff shortly after the death of his wife, to create the scenes with Whit.
Whit returned in 1996 voiced by a new actor, Paul Herlinger. His first episode was, appropriately, #355: “The Search for Whit, Part 1”. By that time in the series, his archaeological trip was over and he found another Odyssey character to take his place. Whit has never left Odyssey since.
In late 2008, Paul Herlinger informed the AIO Team that they should begin searching a replacement for Whit, because he was having health problems and did not want the team to be stranded without a voice for Whit once again. The AIO Team held auditions and ultimately decided Andre Stojka to be a good replacement. Herlinger's last episode was #TTC08: “The Final Call”, and Stojka's first was
Some fans found it hard to adjust to a new voice actor, and asked for Herlinger to return. nfortunately, Herlinger passed away in February of 2010, reaffirming that Stojka was to be the voice of Whit.
The "Split" era
The "Split" era (not to be confused with Split episodes) refers to a time period in AIO history when the producers were searching for a new Whit. In 1994, after Hal Smith died, the character of John Avery Whittaker was sent to the Middle East so the producers could find a new actor to play Whit. To fill the void Whit left, two new characters were introduced. Jason Whittaker, Whit's son who had been introduced in #212: “The Mortal Coil, Part 2”, portrayed the adventurous side of Whit. He also possessed Whit's inventing skills. Whit's wisdom and faith were found in the other new character, Jack Allen. Jack and Whit were lifelong friends, and Jack took over Whit's "grandfatherly" attributes, aiding the kids in moral dilemmas and being the spiritual leader of the gang at Whit's End. The attributes of Whit were split between Jason and Jack and the show continued on.
Departure of Will Ryan
Between 2000 and 2005 Eugene Meltsner was almost nowhere to be found. While he was involved in the Novacom saga, he never actually spoke during these shows. Only things about him were mentioned, like the fact that his apartment had been ransacked (#484: “Plan B, Part 1: Missing in Action”). This absence of Eugene was due to the absence of Will Ryan, the actor who played Eugene. While it is not known (to the public) why Will Ryan went on this hiatus, one can guess it may have dealt with contractual issues or family problems. Eugene and Will Ryan returned in 2005 in #564: “A Most Intriguing Question”. The absence of Eugene was explained by saying that he and Katrina had toured the world. Eugene has been on the show steadily since that date.
Novacom and new directions
The Novacom saga was a major series in AIO. The saga lasted between 2000 and 2002. It dealt with the evil doings of a broadcasting company named Novacom, Andromeda (the parent company), and all of their minions such as Bennett Charles. They planned on using mind control to rule the world (clearly showing the view of the AIO writers and producers). During this saga, Whit opened a new Whit's End in Connellsville. Many new characters were introduced then cut after the series ended in the spring of 2002. During this series, Robert Mitchell (Mitch), who was allegedly murdered, but later found to be alive, was introduced and he and Connie became a couple. Cal Jordan ([|Alex Jefferson]]'s cousin) was also introduced. Jason became a more prominent character, but after the end of the Novacom series, he returned to his minor role that he had before the series began. Cal and Mitch exited soon after the end of the Novacom series as well. Aubrey Shepard and her family was also largely cut after this Novacom saga. Another major outcome from the saga was the tone of the show. The Novacom series was very mature for the usually young audience (8-12 yrs. old), with most episodes posting the usual warning to that effect. While the Novacom saga is a favorite of many Odyssey fans young and old, AIO has been quite different ever since. In general the tone has been much lighter hearted with little of the intrigue found in during the Novacom days.
Album 51: Take it From the Top was a new beginning for Odyssey fans. Paul McCusker described it as "a fresh beginning so that the older fans could continue listening to the same old characters, and for the new fans, a way to introduce Odyssey to them without having to go back to the first album."
The Green Ring Conspiracy
The Green Ring Conspiracy, a saga similar to Novacom, introduced a few new characters to Odyssey, including Penny Wise and Buck Oliver. The saga centered on a counterfeiting ring in the town. Penny and Buck went on to become regular (even major) characters on the show, with Penny as Wooton Bassett's love interest and later his wife, and with Buck as Eugene and Katrina's foster son.
Jason Whittaker was still living in Odyssey at the end of Album 50, and still had a "nemesis" out looking for him. In #634 – #635: “Accidental Dilemma”, Jason is confronted by this nemesis ("The Whisperer") and the episode ends with the Whisperer arrested, Jason safely in hiding, and the rest of Odyssey believing him to be dead. Jason's character did not appear in Album 51 or Album 52, but he returned, undercover, in #686: “The Green Ring Conspiracy, Part 8” (Album 53). He played a major role throughout the rest of the album, and did not appear again until #703 – #705: “The Labyrinth” in Album 55. Jason still did not assume a normal role in Odyssey until Album 56 (fall 2012), where he took ownership of the J & J Antique Gallery from Jack and Joanne Allen. This proved to be providential, as the actors for Jack and Joanne (Alan Young and Janet Waldo, respectively) passed away in 2016.
AIO is atypical in that it does not fall cleanly into either comedy or melodrama category, and episode plots range from the farcical (e.g., #440: “I Slap Floor”) to the extremely serious (e.g., #490 – #491: “The Black Veil”). In all, approximately one-third of all episodes fall in the purely comic category, a third in the purely dramatic category, and the remaining third are hybrid. However, all episodes are written to convey some moral, and a Bible reference verse, and are written to be both entertaining and acceptable to all age groups.
Most radio episodes are written to fit in a half-hour broadcast window, though it is not uncommon for a single episode to span multiple half-hour segments, divided into numbered parts (each carrying their own production number). To date, there have been 86 two-part episodes, 20 three-parters, 2 four-parters, a twelve-parter, and a fourteen-parter, with the last of those (#751 – #764: “The Ties That Bind”) being the longest. (Even “The Ties That Bind” does not end with Album 58; it continues into Album #59: Taking the Plunge.) Official multi-part episodes have "Part 1," "Part 2," etc. in their titles, although others do not (such as #546: “No Way Out” / #547: “No Way In”). Other unofficial multi-part arcs have similar words or phrases in their episode titles (such as #274: “First-Hand Experience”, #275: “Second Thoughts”, #276: “Third Degree”, #277: “It Happened at Four Corners”, and #278 – #279: “The Fifth House on the Left”). Major storylines, as with other melodramas, span numerous episodes. The Novacom saga, for example, spans 28 episodes, originally aired over a 20-month time frame.
Initially, each AIO episode began and ended with a short story segment or skit, usually around two minutes total, involving the program's host, Chris. (Chris seemed to exist in both the real world and in the fictional AIO universe.) These "wraparounds" introduced and highlighted the subject of the episode; at the end, Chris would give the Bible verses supporting the theme of the particular episode, as well as production credits and, usually, contact information for Focus on the Family. Eventually, it was decided that these wraparounds had become so elaborate that they detracted from the main story and Odyssey plot-line, and starting in 1991, Chris's role was reduced to a brief introduction ("Hi, this is Chris. Welcome to Adventures in Odyssey!"), followed by John Campbell's AIO music theme. However, Chris retained the role of concluding each episode with a recapitulation and biblical reference. In multi-part episodes, Chris introduces the later segments by introducing select informative sound bites ("Last time, on Adventures in Odyssey...).
Another change to the introduction came shortly thereafter: Chris's welcome statement was overlaid onto the musical theme, followed by a welcome from main character John Avery Whittaker, after which a selection of sound bites from the episode were juxtaposed to create a (usually) comedic preview of the episode.
This format has remained, albeit with a few minor changes. First, beginning with the 1994 episode #275: “Second Thoughts”, various characters followed Chris in welcoming listeners to the program (a change originating when the character of Whit was absent from the show from 1994 to 1996). For example, in #275: “Second Thoughts”, Bernard does the intro, saying:
|“||Hi, this is Bernard Walton. You know, I can't think of anything I'd rather do than hang around with you for a time of wonder and excitement. Then again, getting my squeegee caught in my suspenders is exciting to me. Anyway, welcome to Adventures in Odyssey!||”|
Second, beginning with episode #144: “Someone to Watch Over Me”, the AIO theme and welcome sequence was moved to follow the opening scene in select episodes, similar to most modern-day television melodramas and sitcoms. Third, voice acting credits were added to engineering credits read by Chris at the show's conclusion.
The only other experiment regarding the AIO format began with episodes #428a, "The Eternal Birthday" and #428b, "Imaginary Friend", two quarter-hour episodes designed to air within the same half-hour time slot. Each "half-episode" was independent of the other, and generally tended to the comical because of the limited development possible in a shorter time frame. After ten such "splits", the idea was abandoned (AIO fans claimed splits catered to a declining attention span among youth.)
The current format, for most episodes, is thus:
- Musical theme
- Chris's introductory welcome
- Introduction from a character (or Chris herself, in which case Chris usually does not give an additional welcome)
- Episode, with two commercial breaks
- Chris's conclusion, with episode summary, moral take-away, Bible reference, and voice, engineering, writing, and production credits
The time span in the context of the AIO plot also varies greatly. The shortest episode is #223: “Real Time”; the episode covers events that take place in approximately, 22 minutes and 51 seconds. However, other episodes contain events in Odyssey that may occur over more than a month, for example, #182: “The Scales of Justice” and #202: “Timmy's Cabin”.
AIO is broadcast through thousands of radio stations in the United States and Canada. Many stations rerun episodes daily (synchronous with one another); new episodes (and episodes after Album 50) are aired on Saturday mornings.
- Main article: Series albums
AIO is in a relatively unique position. Most radio dramas were popular before the advent of inexpensive and convenient recording and playback formats, and back episodes were never released. AIO, however, began near the end of the cassette tape era, and Focus on the Family decided to use that medium to create albums of AIO episodes, a decade before the custom became popular of releasing TV series on DVD. The early episodes were all available on free cassettes from Focus on the Family, with two episodes on each cassette. Starting around episode 50, Focus on the Family began charging for the individual tapes. The early albums contained six cassette tapes, with two episodes per tape, and were the primary release format through 1992, with most of the first 208 episodes released exclusively on cassette (a few remain unreleased to this day in the albums).
In 1993, Album #16: Flights of Imagination was released for both audio cassette and on four CDs. Dual-release, on both cassette and CD, was the tactic used for all albums from 16 to 45 which are available on both audio cassette and CD. Focus on the Family has since gone back and reissued albums 1-15 in CD format as well including an extra album of never before released episodes. In 2006 Focus said that album 45 would be the last album to be released on both cassette and CD, limiting future releases to CD only.
Since Album #51: Take it From the Top, the episodes usually have been available on CD or digital download before airing on the radio.
AIO reflects the beliefs and stances of its parent organization, Focus on the Family, a U.S.-based, interdenominational, evangelical, non-profit organization. All episodes are based on a certain scriptural reference, though the inclusion may range from simply the Chris's thematic summary at the end of the program, to the religious topic being discussed throughout the episode. Some episodes deal with general moral principles, such as honesty or trust, with little reference to Christianity in particular (for example, #194: “A License to Drive”). Others, however, concern doctrinal topics such as Christology, Salvation, Spiritual warfare, and so forth (for example, #357: “The Search for Whit, Part 3”; #330: “The Time Has Come”; and, #122 – #123: “Castles and Cauldrons”, respectively). Most, though not always all, of the protagonists are Christians, and prayers and church events are regularly included in episodes. However, denominational issues are not considered. For example, most Christian characters attend churches with such nondenominational names as "Odyssey Community Church" and "Odyssey Bible Church".
In addition, the principle of Biblical inerrancy is ascribed to most of the protagonists, especially John Avery Whittaker. As such, references to and re-enactments of Bible stories are regular, and interpreted as factual.
Some serious topics dealt with in AIO include:
- Death and the afterlife in #211 – #212: “The Mortal Coil”
- Abortion in #134: “Pamela Has a Problem”
- Espionage, terrorism, and counterfeiting in #290 – #291: “A Name, Not a Number”, #679 – #690: “The Green Ring Conspiracy”, and #703 – #705: “The Labyrinth”
- Spiritual warfare in #122 – #123: “Castles and Cauldrons”
- Mind control in the Novacom saga
- Creation versus evolution in #68: “Choices”
- Addiction in #288: “The Twilife Zone”, #350: “The Time of Our Lives”, and #537: “My Girl, Hallie”
- Bigotry in #129: “Not One of Us”
- Guardian angels in #144: “Someone to Watch Over Me”
- Gambling in #338: “Easy Money” and #628 – #629: “The Highest Stakes”
- The Underground Railroad and slavery in #314 – #316: “The Underground Railroad”
- Separation of church and state in #214: “The Living Nativity”
- Historical revisionism in #308: “Subject Yourself”
- Frivolous lawsuits in #306: “A Victim of Circumstance”
- Divorce in #592: “Now More than Ever” and #626 – #: “Life, in the Third Person”
- Adoption in #605 – #606: “The Chosen One”
- The roles of gender and family in #751 – #764: “The Ties That Bind”
- John Avery Whittaker, commonly known as "Whit", has been voiced by Hal Smith (1987-1994), Paul Herlinger (1996-2008), and Andre Stojka (2009-present).
- Connie Kendall, the oldest Whit's End employee, is voiced by Katie Leigh.
- Eugene Meltsner, voiced by Will Ryan (1988-2000, 2005-present)
- Katrina Shanks-Meltsner, voiced by Pamela Hayden (1994-1998) and Audrey Wasilewski (2005-present), Eugene's on-again, off-again girlfriend for many years who finally became his wife after a turbulent courtship.
- Bernard Walton, voiced by Dave Madden: a friendly janitor known for his metaphorical antics. Bernard serves as a common-sense foil to book-smart Eugene.
- Tom Riley, voiced by Walker Edmiston (1987-2008): a local farmer and former Odyssey mayor who is old friends with Whit, and is known for his relaxed, honest approach to all things. He owns and operates the "Timothy Center", named for his late son.
- The Barclay family, including parents George and Mary, daughter Donna, and sons Jimmy and Stewart Reed along with cat Ferguson (once belonged to Donna's friend Karen Crosby, who died of cancer) and dog Normal. The Barclays eventually left Odyssey for a small New England town called Pokenberry Falls, where George took a job as pastor of the local church.
- Jack Allen, voiced by Alan Young: a childhood friend of Whit, who, along with his wife, Joanne, used to own "J and J Antiques"; known for being somewhat reticent.
- Joanne Allen, voiced by Janet Waldo, is the loving wife of Jack Allen.
- Jason Whittaker, voiced by Townsend Coleman: Whit's youngest son, who, similar to his father, is a former employee of the National Security Agency. Jason is known for his good looks, intelligence, and strong pro-technology tendencies that often conflict with the views of Jack Allen (with Allen serving as a common-sense foil to technophile Jason). He currently runs Triple J Antiques.
- Bart Rathbone, voiced by Walker Edmiston (1987-2007) and Robert Easton (2008-present): scheming manager of the Electric Palace, known for his half-baked entrepreneurial ideas, constant attempts to promote his store, and multiple ill-fated campaigns for the mayorship of Odyssey.
- Rodney Rathbone, voiced by Steve Burns: the none-too-smart son of Bart Rathbone acts as local bully and head of the eponymous bad-boy gang "Bones of Rath."
- Lucy Cunningham-Schultz is an ace reporter and writer for The Odyssey Owl school newspaper and freelance writer for the chief city newspaper, The Odyssey Times. Lucy is voiced by Genni Long.
- Dr. Regis Blackgaard, the villain who attempts to take over the town of Odyssey. In the series he is supposedly killed in a tunnel explosion; however, his character appeared in a later episode, in which he communicated with a character named Aubrey inside the Imagination Station. It was revealed that this was due to a virus that had gotten into the machine, and it was destroyed for good. Regis Blackgaard is voiced by Earl Boen.
- Edwin Blackgaard, voiced by Earl Boen: identical twin brother of perennial villain Dr. Regis Blackgaard, a good-natured but egocentrically Shakespearian actor who owns, manages, and stars in the productions of "The Harlequin Dinner Theatre". He also owns the Electric Palace.
- Wooton Bassett, voiced by Jess Harnell: is the postman serving "Whit's End". He is known for his juvenile personality, obsession with comic books (especially the fictional "PowerBoy" series).
- Penny Bassett, voiced by Kimmy Robertson, is Wooton's wife and Connie's best friend. She is an artist with a cheerful personality.
- Buck Oliver, voiced by Robby Bruce, is Eugene and Katrina's teenage foster son.
- Jules Kendall, voiced by Shona Rodman, is Connie's half-sister.
- The Parker family: A family of diverse personalities and Hispanic heritage. The Parker family consists of two parents, Eva and David, and three children, Olivia, Matthew, and Camilla.
- The Washington family: A family of African Americans who play a prominent role in Odyssey. The family consists of Ed, Elaine, Marvin, Tamika, and Kelly.
- Jay Smouse, a mischievous troublemaker with a poorly concealed good side.
- Emily Jones, a clever, amateur detective who is best friends with Matthew Parker.
- Jared DeWhite: A paranoid boy with an overactive imagination.
- Mandy Straussberg: An ace student and gifted writer in Odyssey, best friend of Liz Horton.
- Trent DeWhite: An imaginative science nerd and friend of Marvin Washington and Mandy Straussberg.
- Liz Horton: The Odyssey Owl's top reporter, best friends with Mandy Straussberg.
- Chris, the show's announcer, voiced by Chris Anthony.
AIO unquestionably centers on John Avery Whittaker who is the founder and proprietor of "Whit's End". "Whit", as he is called by most friends (Eugene Meltsner a notable and consistent exception), is a widower with a varied history, a history that often plays into episodes. After serving with the United States Navy in World War II, he was involved as a consultant with the National Security Agency. Later, he founded the Universal Press Foundation, an encyclopedia company, and became an elementary teacher. He and his late wife Jenny moved to Odyssey approximately ten years before the setting of the pilot episode of AIO.
Helping Whit at "Whit's End" are his two main employees, Connie Kendall and Eugene Meltsner. Connie appeared in Odyssey in #4: “Connie Comes to Town”, as a junior-high student. After graduating in episode #405: “The Graduate”, she decided to continue to work at "Whit's End" full-time. Eugene, who first appeared as a college student in #51: “Connie, Part 1”, began an internship at Whit's End while attending Campbell County Community College. In recent years, his fellowship with the college has given him less opportunity to work at Whit's End, and the sensitive nature of his research caused him to flee Odyssey in the midst of the Novacom saga. After much soul-searching, Eugene returned to Odyssey in episode #564: “A Most Intriguing Question”.
- Main article: Connie's Conversion saga
The first multi-part plot arc of AIO concerns Connie Kendall. Connie, a teenager from California, moves to Odyssey in #4: “Connie Comes to Town”, and takes a job at "Whit's End". Through the first season, there is a significant amount of tension between Connie's a religious belief and the Christianity of Whit and Tom. Over time, Connie softens to Christianity, and becomes a Christian at the end of the two-part episode "Connie" (#51: “Connie, Part 1” & #52: “Connie, Part 2”).
- Main article: Blackgaard saga
The "Blackgaard saga" is the definitive AIO storyline, with its roots first mentioned in #19: “Recollections”, and its encore in #424 – #425: “Blackgaard's Revenge”. Thus, the saga was broadcast over a total of 11 years. The saga includes the 11-part Darkness Before Dawn series, originally broadcast in 1995.
The saga recounts the ongoing battle between John Whittaker and his nemesis, Dr. Regis Blackgaard, over two different items: first, a computer program Whittaker developed for the National Security Agency named "Applesauce", and second, a mineral found beneath "Whit's End" that forms the active ingredient in the enzyme TA-418, a chemical weapon.
Another ongoing storyline in AIO concerns the Barclay family's direction following father George Barclay's unemployment. In the Barclay saga, George Barclay is led into the ministry, and the Barclay family eventually moves from Odyssey to the small town of Pokenberry Falls.
The Search for Whit
- Main article: Whit's Departure and Return saga
Roughly a year following John Whittaker accepting the position in the Middle East, a series of strange, unclear messages reach Odyssey, essentially making it seem evident that Whit has disappeared and may be in danger. Jason and Eugene embark on a mission to find him, and eventually do (presumably because the producers found a suitable recast for Whit's voice).
Eugene and Katrina
- Main article: Eugene and Katrina's Relationship Arc
One of the most popular plot arcs in AIO concerns Eugene Meltsner's relationship with Katrina Shanks-Meltsner. Eugene and Katrina's relationship was plagued by numerous miscommunications and misunderstandings, which were largely a result of Eugene's lack of experience when it came to matters of the heart.
Leonard Meltsner Saga
- Main article: Leonard Meltsner Saga
Eugene has stumbled upon clues to find his father Leonard, but so has a ruthless archaeologist from Leonard's past.
- Main article: Novacom saga
The largest continuous plot arc attempted to date, the "Novacom saga" spanned 29 episodes originally aired over a 20-month time frame, and concerns the attempts of the Novacom Corporation to brainwash Odyssey and, eventually, the world.
The Novacom series begins with a number of episodes that introduce the Novacom Corporation to Odyssey. Novacom is a media conglomerate, and buys a number of television and radio stations in the Odyssey area. Many of the television programming they run is controversial and violent, which quickly puts Whit and most of the protagonists of Odyssey at odds with Novacom. Later it is found that Novacom is trying to mind control the people of Odyssey and the world.
Over time, an increasing number of voices claim that Novacom is up to no good.
The Green Ring Conspiracy
- Main article: The Green Ring Conspiracy (Saga)
The "Green Ring Conspiracy" was a plotline following the appearance of counterfeit money in Odyssey.
The Ties That Bind
- Main article: The Ties That Bind (Saga)
"The Ties That Bind" chronicles inside information about Wooton Bassett's comic books, vandalism at Whit's End, a mysterious "ghost town" near Odyssey, the engagement and eventual wedding of Wooton and Penny Wise, and the character developments of Buck Oliver (a player in the Green Ring Conspiracy) and Jules Kendall (Connie's half sister).
- Main article: Rydell Saga
Morrie Rydell is an Odyssey kid with some sort of hidden scheme. His enigma of a character has appeared in sparse single episodes.
Special show types
In addition to normal shows, which involve characters in the Odyssey fictional universe, a few other formats are frequently used (in, perhaps, 10% of episodes). These divergent formats are usually connected to Odyssey by such devices as inventions of John Whittaker, for instance.
- Main article: B-TV
B-TV is a television show in Odyssey that is hosted by Bernard Walton. B-TV episodes consist of several different segments that focus on a common topic. Usually the topics deal with something Biblical, the episodes that are included in the B-TV series are:
- #298: “I Want My B-TV”
- #317: “B-TV: Envy”
- #345: “B-TV: Compassion”
- #383: “B-TV: Thanks”
- #410: “B-TV: Forgiveness”
- #434: “B-TV: Redeeming the Season”
- #439: “B-TV: Grace”
- #461: “B-TV: Obedience”
- #515: “B-TV: Behind the Scenes”
- #622: “B-TV: Temptation”
- #???: “B-TV: Live!”
- #769: “B-TV: To Tell the Truth”
- #830: “B-TV: Revenge”
- #858: “B-TV: Trinity”
- #869: “B-TV: Idolatry”
K-Y-D-S Kids Radio
- Main article: Kids' Radio (station)
Kids' Radio is a radio station run out of Whit's End. While it doesn't necessarily broadcast continually, it has been used to tell many stories. A few of the broadcasted shows have included Playhouse of the Airwaves, The Twilife Zone (a parody of The Twilight Zone), The Jimmy Barclay Show, Candid Conversations with Connie, "Ask Doctor Wise" (later changed to "Ask Doctor Wise and Professor Brilliant"), and O.T. Action News.
The idea behind Kids' Radio began in #36: “Kids' Radio”. Brad Dillard, a local youth, convinces Whit to allow him to use some old equipment at Whit's End to produce a radio station for kids' programming. Though many of the children of Odyssey express interest, Brad cannot convince enough others to actually work on the production. Brad's father, seeing his son overworked, asks Whit to discontinue the station's operation, and he sadly does so.
However, Whit decided the idea was a good one, and in #114: “The Big Broadcast” and #141: “Over the Airwaves”, he reintroduces Kids' Radio as a medium for conveying biblical truths to the children of Odyssey.
Kids' Radio is an interesting plot device, as it plays into AIO in numerous, but very different, ways. For instance, several episodes of AIO are nothing more than a half-hour length Kids' Radio program. Usually, the AIO episode begins as normal, after which a character (usually Connie Kendall) introduces the Kids' Radio program to Odyssey residents. In this way, real listeners skip through the Odyssey fictional universe and enter a second-layer fictional universe, such as The Twilife Zone, a Kids' Radio program. (For example, the pilot episode for The Twilife Zone is the only content of #288: “The Twilife Zone”.) Actress Katie Leigh portrays Connie Kendall's wrap-around of the broadcast of The Twilife Zone, as well as Rodlyn Serly, the host of The Twilife Zone, who is fictional even in Odyssey. Thus, with these programs, there is a "double-layer" of fiction.
Other AIO episodes contain Kids' Radio programs, but from the perspective of the Odyssey fictional universe. For example, episode #294: “Unto Us a Child Is Born”, concerns the play-writing, directing, recording, and live-radio drama on Kids' Radio (live in the Odyssey fictional universe, not in reality). The same is the case with episodes of Candid Conversations with Connie, sports programs, and others.
It is implied that Kids' Radio is not in continual live broadcast, as characters sometimes use the studio (located in Whit's End) to conduct private conversations, as in #335 – #336: “Love is in the Air”, #602: “Mum's the Word”, and #714: “Something Old, Something New, Part 2”.
The Imagination Station
- Main article: Imagination Station
The Imagination Station is undoubtedly the most often-used plot device in AIO, outside of the major characters and "Whit's End" or Odyssey as a whole. It is almost a character itself, having evolved throughout the AIO storyline and playing a major role in most plot arcs. The Imagination Station is one of John Avery Whittaker's inventions. People can use the station to experience historical and biblical events in a seemingly more-immersive version of virtual reality. The general concept is similar in many respects to the Star Trek holodeck. The station is typically used for educational and for other productive reasons, many historical happenings are brought to life through this invention. However, on one occasion the fictional corporation Novacom attempted to exploit its technology to enslave the entire world. In the video series episode "The Knight Travellers" the Imagination Station is used by the villain as a mind-control device.
The Room of Consequence
- Main article: Room of Consequence
The "Room of Consequence", another of Whit's inventions, was introduced in #236: “Into Temptation”. The idea is that just as the Imagination Station allows individuals to step into the past, the Room of Consequence allows them to see a possible future, usually extrapolated from the decisions the person is making in the present. Unlike the Imagination Station, the Room of Consequence does not appear to allow for significant interaction with the future environment.
The Room of Consequence plays a much smaller role in AIO than the Imagination Station, with only twelve episodes including it to date.
- Main article: Transmuter
The Transmuter is another one of John Whittaker's inventions. Just as the Imagination Station allows a person to experience the past, and The Room of Consequence allows a person to see a possible future, the Transmuter allows a person to experience the present from another person's point of view. This lets you experience events from a perspective you normally wouldn't be able to see. It debuted in #419: “Another Man's Shoes”. The Transmuter is described as bearing a resemblance to the weight scales in a Doctor's office.
After being subtly referenced in #408: “Malachi's Message, Part 3”, used in “Another Man's Shoes,” and referenced again in #431b: “The Virtual Kid”, the Transmuter was never used or heard from again.
Focus on the Family has released several different book series based on Adventures in Odyssey.
- Strange Journey Back
- High Flyer With a Flat Tire
- The Secret Cave of Robinwood
- Behind the Locked Door
- Lights Out at Camp What-a-Nut
- The King's Quest
- Danger Lies Ahead
- Point of No Return
- Dark Passage
- Freedom Run
- The Stranger's Message
- A Carnival of Secrets
- Main article: Passages
- Darien's Rise (book) (This book was dramatized in 2009 to air on the radio.)
- Arin's Judgment
- Annison's Risk
- Glennall's Betrayal
- Draven's Defiance
- Fendar's Legacy
Mysteries in Odyssey
- The Great Kidsboro Takeover
- Battle for Control
- The Rise and Fall of the Kidsborian Empire
- The Creek War
- The Risky Reunion
The Imagination Station
- Main article: The Imagination Station (book series)
- Voyage with the Vikings
- Attack at the Arena
- Peril in the Palace
- Revenge of the Red Knight
- Showdown with the Shepherd
- Problems in Plymouth
- Secret of the Prince's Tomb
- Battle for Cannibal Island
- Escape to the Hiding Place
- Challenge on the Hill of Fire
- Hunt for the Devil's Dragon
- Danger on a Silent Night
- The Redcoats Are Coming!
- Captured on the High Seas
- Surprise at Yorktown
- Doomsday in Pompeii
- In Fear of the Spear
- Trouble on the Orphan Train
- Light in the Lions' Den
- Inferno in Tokyo
- Madman in Manhattan
- Freedom at the Falls
- Terror in the Tunnel
- Rescue on the River
- Poison at the Pump
- Swept into the Sea
Candid Conversations with Connie
- Candid Conversations with Connie
- Candid Conversations With Connie: Volume 2
- Candid Conversations With Connie: Volume 3
The Blackgaard Chronicles
- Main article: The Blackgaard Chronicles (book series)
- Main article: Young Whit (book series)
- Young Whit and the Traitor's Treasure
- Young Whit and the Shroud of Secrecy
- Young Whit and the Thieves of Barrymore
- The names of the Barclay family are all based on the movie It's a Wonderful Life: George is based on the character George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, Mary is based on Mary Bailey, played by Donna Reed. While the adults' names are based on the fictional characters' names, their children's names, Donna, Jimmy and Stewart, are based on the names of the actors Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart, respectively (Stewart's middle name is Reed, putting the actors' last names together). The last name is a close approximation of Bailey. The relation between It's a Wonderful Life and the Barclays on AIO is so close that they made a 1-hour Adventures in Odyssey episode (#385 – #386: “It's a Pokenberry Christmas”) with the plot-line and many of the quotes from the movie. Also AIO characters have alluded to It's a Wonderful Life.
- An AIO episode, #248: “Terror from the Skies”, is based heavily on the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds by Orson Welles. The episode features Edwin Blackgaard, owner of "The Harlequin Dinner Theatre", producing a radio broadcast dubbed Terror from the Skies. Like The War of the Worlds, it uses news bulletins tell about an alien invasion. In Blackgaard's broadcast, a meteor lands near Odyssey. The meteor breaks open and several hideous aliens emerge, who capture and eat several people, before encountering the National Guard. The National Guard tries to defeat them, but to no avail, as the aliens are not affected at all by the weapons. All appears to be lost, until the aliens succumb to the simplest weapon: water, which affects them in a way similar to acid. This is homage to the way the aliens in The War of the Worlds succumb to viruses and bacteria. Terror from the Skies is confirmed by Edwin Blackgaard to be simply a dramatization, much like the way Orson Wells confirmed his to be.
- AIO episodes #122 – #123: “Castles and Cauldrons” were the first episodes to have a parental advisory from Focus on the Family founder/chairman Dr. James Dobson due to the heavily dramatic and spiritual nature of the episodes. The episodes portrayed spiritual aspects of fantasy role-playing games (RPGs). The scripts were carefully reviewed by AIO and Focus on the Family staff members prior to airing. These episodes are highly controversial, even among Christians. "Castles and Cauldrons" is a reference to Dungeons and Dragons.
- On the compilation album, Grins, Grabbers and Great Getaways, “Kids Radio” was labeled "KYDS Radio" (apparently using KYDS as the station's call sign). This is a play on words as the station was run "by kids, for kids". The AIO website and later releases of the episode changed the name to "Kids' Radio," since K-Y-D-S are the call letters for a radio station in Sacramento, California.
- For a complete list of cast and crew, see here