Happy 35th Birthday, Adventures in Odyssey! And Thank You!

November 21st, 1987. A day which will live in honor. In my heart, and in the hearts of millions of people around the world of all ages. Ok, ...

November 21st, 1987. A day which will live in honor. In my heart, and in the hearts of millions of people around the world of all ages. Ok, I’ll stop with the allusions to the speeches of American Presidents and just share with you some of my thoughts as we celebrate the 35th birthday of Adventures in Odyssey; the best, and one of the longest-running, audio dramas in history.

Though I’m fairly certain it wasn’t, the first Adventures in Odyssey episode that I have a firm recollection of listening to on the radio was “The Imagination Station, Part 2”. My parents have listened to the Focus on the Family daily broadcast for as long as I can remember so I’m quite confident that we would have heard the pilot audio dramas on the show and the first AIO episodes leading up to the one I just mentioned as well. But I have a vivid memory of sitting in the living room of our home in rural, western Wisconsin, listening to WWIB, and hearing the story of the crucifixion of Jesus come to life through the perspective of a somewhat snarky little boy named Digger Digwillow.

Perhaps it was the subject matter that made this episode stick so firmly in my mind, but I remember being engrossed in the story as Digger screams “Nooo!” when Pilate commands that Jesus is to be crucified. Then, in the scene at Golgotha, as Digger begins to cry, I remember being so moved, even as a child. It made a huge impact on me at the time, and to this day, when I hear that episode, I still get a lump in my throat.

Fast forward a few decades and here we are in 2022. I have heard every single episode of the show at least once, and many of them quite a few times. I have grown up with Jimmy and Donna Barclay, Isaac Morton, Robin and Melanie Jacobs, the DeWhites, and the Straussbergs. I remember Connie’s high school graduation, Eugene and Katrina’s on-and-off relationship, the Rathbones’ shenanigans, Tom Riley’s run for mayor, Dr. Blackgaard’s evildoings, the opening of The Timothy Center, Bernard and Eugene’s road trip, and numerous other events in the series almost as well as events in my own life. Because that’s how they felt.

These characters became a part of my world. When that familiar theme tune would come on the radio, a cassette, or CD, I knew I was going to visit old friends. Odyssey felt like a real place. Whit was the grandpa we all loved. Connie and Eugene were close friends you just thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with. Whit’s End, Trickle Lake, Hal’s Diner, and even the Electric Palace seemed like they were just down the street and I could visit any time I wanted.

And they not only felt like friends, but the life lessons they learned, hardships they faced, and joyous occasions they experienced left an imprint on me and helped shape me into the person I am today. Vocabulary and scientific facts from Eugene, biblical lessons from Whit, and even how to deal with life’s challenging moments from Lucy, Jimmy, or Connie; many of these bits of knowledge, morality,  and wisdom are with me still. As is the cheery voice of Chris Anthony Lansdowne as she helped to bring home the point with an applicable verse of Scripture.

I am long removed from the target age demographic for Adventures in Odyssey. And there was a few year period during, and right after, college in which I didn’t listen to the show regularly. Though it was never far away as my younger siblings were still faithful listeners. But it is one of the few things that has been a continual part of my life. Friends have come and gone, I’ve moved across the country several times, loved ones have been estranged or have shuffled off this mortal coil (see what I did there?), and Odyssey has been there all along. Through lots of family road trips, Saturday mornings around the radio, driveway moments, and nights as I drifted off to sleep, this little audio drama was there.

I have been incredibly privileged to meet many of the folks responsible for this amazing show, in person, over the last 12 years that ATC has been running. I’ve met writers and producers Phil Lollar, Chuck Bolte, Paul McCusker, Dave Arnold, Nathan Hoobler, Kathy Buchanan, Marshal Younger, John Fornof and Bob Smithouser. A few others I have communicated with online. I’ve also met several sound designers in person and online. And several of the actors as well. The incredibly talented people who give the voices to the beloved characters. Katie Leigh, Will Ryan, Andre Stojka, Jess Harnell, Kimmy Robertson, and Shona Rodman, just to name a few. All of these people, and hundreds of others, have been part of bringing the world of Odyssey to life.

It’s almost strange to think that an audio drama has had such a profound effect on my life. And there are probably many other things I could say about that or the show’s impact on the audio drama industry as a whole. But I think I’ve prattled on long enough and all that remains is to say, “thank you”. Thank you to Dr. Dobson for taking a chance on radio drama in the early 1980s that eventually led to Adventures in Odyssey. Thanks to Phil Lollar and Steve Harris for creating this immersive world. Thanks to all the cast and crew over the years for working so hard on this show. And thanks to the current Focus leadership and the AIO team for keeping it running 35 years later. I am grateful to you all. Audio Theatre Central would not exist without AIO so it's quite safe to say that AIO has literally changed my life in many ways. This fan will be ever appreciative of a little town called Odyssey.

J.D. Sutter is the host and producer of the Audio Theatre Central podcast and editor of the blog. A lifelong fan of audio drama, he is an industry critic who has guest lectured and spoken at conferences on the subject. J.D. is also a voiceover artist, podcast consultant, and chair of the ATC Seneca Awards, the annual awards for the family-friendly audio drama industry.


JD Sutter 2486328895094457072

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