1. What was your first exposure to AIO?
Technically, I saw my first Adventures in Odyssey animated cartoon with my cousin ("A Fine Feathered Frenzy"), though I don't think that counts because it's not the audio series.
I was first introduced to Adventures in Odyssey in, I believe, 1991 when I was six years old. I come from the original generation of Odyssey listeners and grew up with the show. My aunt gave me a cassette copy of "Terrific Tales, Mysterious Missions" as a Christmas gift. Meanwhile, my brother and sister both received their own AIO albums on cassette as well that same Christmas. My sister received "It's Another Fine Day" and my brother received "Other Times, Other Places." The first episode I ever heard is "The Ill-Gotten Deed", and when I heard it, my initial reaction was that "this show is weird". Fortunately, I decided to give more episodes a try. Needless to say, by the end of the album I was hooked. And since I had access to two more albums right off the bat, it's a given that my siblings and I swapped albums after they had similar positive experiences. After hearing three albums in a very short amount of time, I'm sure you can imagine how eager I was to obtain more albums.
Because I was new to the show, I assumed that getting "The Early Classics" would fill in all the details I'd missed by jumping right into the series. It didn't. To me, the album felt very discombobulated and random, and rightly so since the album was pieced together with out-of-order episodes after the series started. Thankfully, that has been corrected with the release of "The Adventure Begins."
I think I had collected all the available albums up through "Signed, Sealed & Committed" by 1998 or 1999. That was considered a complete collection in those days, and "Chronicles, Kings & Crosses" was that special coveted extra compilation album with the "cool" cover.
2. What was your inspiration for The Odyssey Scoop?
Primarily my love for Adventures in Odyssey spawned my desire to start my own fan site. I began working on The Odyssey Scoop during a time when it was difficult to obtain certain Adventures in Odyssey graphics, and the product images available at the time were very low quality. Fan sites were very few and far between. I don't remember this as 100% fact or anything (time has a way of doing that if you don't keep a journal), but I think I remember I had browsed through the AIO HQ, a fan site by Odyssey writer Nathan Hoobler, and The Soda Fountain by Corey van der Laan. Those two, along with the newly-released Official Site, inspired me to start a site of my own.
I launched the website on December 22, 2000 titled as "The Odyssey Scoop", which happened to share the name with a feature in Focus on the Family's Clubhouse magazine--though, I didn't know it at the time. Regardless, I stuck with the name because it was just too perfect not to use. Otherwise, our podcast down the road would never have had the chance to be called the "ScoopCast". A very fitting name, don't you think?
Regardless of the name, I'm thankful for the opportunities that have arisen since as I developed design skills for the past 12 years. I would probably cringe at my earlier work and disown it if given the chance. I guess that's why I'm never truly satisfied with one look to the site. What you see today is the result of persistence and not being willing to be content with the status quo.
3. Who is your favorite AIO character?
Probably Whit, mainly because I remember him there throughout my entire childhood. The performances of Hal Smith as "Whit" stand out as really powerful as I listened, and I looked up to him as a kid. My other favorites are Connie and Eugene for their personalities and Bernard for his sarcasm. Of course, Jason, Tom, Jack, and Joanne are my favorites as well.
4. If you could have any AIO character come back, who would it be and why?
If you're hoping I'd choose Regis Blackgaard or Richard Maxwell to return, you're turning to the wrong person. I'm glad the Blackgaard Saga has come and gone, and while Richard turned out to be a hero, there's not really a whole lot the team could do with him if they decided to bring him back. My choice would most likely be to bring back Jimmy Barclay as they have done in the past, but keep him in Odyssey to raise a family. Having Donna around wouldn't be a bad option, either, though they could probably bring her in from out of town occasionally. The same goes for Jana Whittaker. There was something real about Jana's presence in Odyssey on occasion and to be able to see her relationship with her father.
I am glad to see the Odyssey team is doing their best to bring in old faces for older listeners like me. It brings it all back!
5. What are your favorite AIO episodes?
Throughout my listening years, I've become attached to "Grins, Grabber and Great Getaways" (or "The Wildest Summer" as the team calls it now) because I received it the following Christmas and listened to it in that entire day Christmas Day. I remember "The Case of the Secret Room" scared me to death, and after I'd heard the first scene for the first time, I rushed downstairs and made my brother and sister come up and listen to the episodes with me. We rewinded the episode (and yes, we had to physically rewind back in the day) and played from the beginning.
Many of the older episodes were my favorites growing up because those were what I was exposed to. Nowadays, I'm always excited to see what developments are coming up in more recent albums for newer generations of fans. And as cynical as I find myself to be sometimes (I'm a 90's generation listener with lots of memories attached), I'm trying to enjoy the show for what it has become, not for what I remember it used to be. And when I remember that today's generation of target audience fans is enjoying the show for what it is, I remember it's all worth it.
6. What are the best and worst things about running The Odyssey Scoop?
The best part is that I've come in contact with many fans throughout the years who send e-mails of encouragement, comments, suggestions, complaints--everything. The fans are the ones who keep me going. Without their feedback and suggestions, I would have quit a long time ago. Another awesome thing about the site is seeing the traffic to the site inch its way up every year. The site becomes more well known and I've developed a relationship with several members of the Odyssey team who keep me posted on products and things going on behind-the-scenes.
On the flipside, the site has grown so large that it's often difficult to keep site features updated. Real life away from the Scoop tends to pull me away with its demands. And because the site is so large and has improved design-wise throughout the years, it's become common for me to explain via email (on hundreds of occasions) that The Odyssey Scoop is merely a fan site and isn't the Official Site. Because of that, I'm always looking for ways to improve communication on the site to avoid having to write as many of those types of emails... but not everyone reads so I guess I can't win!
Overall, the fans keep me going. I've seen the site impact a lot of people, and seeing a small snippet of my work published in the Official Guide is like a big welcomed reward for my work. Thanks, Focus!
7. Why did you decide to start The Soda Shop?
For years, I had tried to incorporate more ways for fans to interact on the website, which ended up being something I had to try to keep up with on a daily basis. By releasing a message board where fans can step up and get involved and keep the ecosystem functioning daily, it becomes a win-win situation. And I'm thankful for the people who have stepped up to help me out.
Mainly, I wanted to create a place where fans can login to a safe environment (on the Scoop) and discuss Adventures in Odyssey. Currently, other Odyssey message boards exist but are not limited to just AIO discussion (which I have been involved with as well). I wanted to create a community of fans who can discuss only AIO and immerse themselves in it alone. Oftentimes, other message boards are so large that it can be a bit overwhelming to navigate and get involved. The Soda Shop fills a void for the online fan community... and I welcome the use of other big message boards like the ToO as well as it fills a void, too.
8. Do you have any advice for AIO fans looking to start their own website?
If you don't have the commitment to keep a site going long-term, I'd say don't even bother starting a website. If you do have that commitment, be ready to provide your own unique content. You want something that other sites don't have as your enticing site feature. There have been quite a few cookie cutter fan sites over the years. If you want yours to stand out, you have to be different. Go that extra mile. Don't just start a site to provide the latest Odyssey news when that's already covered by other sites (and the Scoop).
Oh, and find ways to gain feedback from your visitors. Without the visitors, you really don't have a website. It's always good to stay in touch with them and find out what they think, because they're the ones interacting with it!
Most of all, be consistent and patient with yourself as you begin. Learn what works and what doesn't. Watch your site morph into something else as time goes by. And don't be afraid to take chances. Not everything you try will work or catch fire. It's okay to experience failure along the way. I'm still in shock at how huge the Scoop has become and how much it has changed since 2000.
9. I understand you enjoy other radio dramas. What other radio dramas do you listen to and overall which one is the best?
I like good acting, so acting dictates my radio drama preferences. I absolutely love Focus on the Family Radio Theatre for its high-quality drama and cinematic feel. Also I like Lamplighter Theatre because it's pretty high-calibur like Radio Theatre, though I consider myself far more loyal to Radio Theatre. I've heard other audio dramas including "Left Behind", "Jungle Jam" (another drama I grew up with and highly recommend), and others. By far, Radio Theatre takes the cake.
10. Have you ever considered working for AIO or FOTF?
At the moment, I'm actually working as an independent contractor work for Focus on the Family for some of their Adventures in Odyssey products. Although I'm not officially on payroll, it's been a pleasure to work with the team and handle some of their graphic design needs. I've quickly discovered that the team gives a lot of creative liberty and generally allows me to show them what I have in mind. I must say... Focus has been an awesome group of easygoing people to team up with!
If you'd like to see some of my work, be watching for Adventures in Odyssey's updated "Official Guide" this fall. I designed the eight-page color tip-in featured in the back of the book which serves as a huge selling point for the book. It's got new photo galleries and pays tribute to all the art styles of the past. Also, I recently took on design work for AIO's upcoming numbered albums. "The Grand Design" is my first album project I was responsible for, from front and back traycard covers, to CD labels, to bonus insert completion. Look for the hard copy of Album 56 this fall.
11. Have you ever been to a live show?
Alas, no, I have not. I've usually had things come up to where I am unable to attend. I would love to go and experience one myself!
12. Have you ever met any AIO actors?
Not yet. I guess you could say that's on my bucket list. It's a very deep bucket.
13. How has AIO impacted your spiritual life?
Overall, I believe AIO has shaped me a lot over the years. As cliche as this sounds, I learned a lot from Whit and I occasionally remember things he said in a former episode to remind me of how I should act. I can certainly blame AIO for my historical knowledge of many of the Bible stories. Hearing those episodes over and over really drives the stories home. I believe storytelling is, perhaps, one of the strongest influences in a person's life. It usually isn't the sermon from your pastor you remember several years afterwards. It's the sermon illustration he used as a memory tool to help you. Stories have the ability to bring doctrine from head knowledge to your heart because you see its application through a story. Now, allowing the Holy Spirit to always work in your life is a challenge in itself.
So yes, AIO has been a a strong influence in my life spiritually. AIO shouldn't be my spiritual life; it should merely aid in pointing you to Christ and encourage you to press on. I don't know here I'd be without AIO.
That was amazing, wasn't it? I'm honored to interview such an asset in the AIO fan community, and I'd like to thank Jacob, if he's reading this, for taking to time to give long, thought-out answers! Well, no AIC today, but AIC will be back with a bang next week along with yet another great interview! Who will I be interviewing next week? I'll give you a hint: He/she works with Odyssey!
Thanks for reading!