If you’ve read this blog for very long, you probably know that I’m a serious fan of theme parks. There are few things that I don’t enjoy about them, particularly when they’re done well. I usually keep this obsession to myself since most people believe they're just for kids. Beyond the experience of visiting the parks, I’m also intrigued by the extreme volume of behind-the-scenes work needed to create a seamless attraction. Way back in 2008, I was thrilled to discover the Season Pass Podcast. This intelligent show is a lot more than a fan project and gives an insider’s perspective on the industry. Founder/Co-Host Doug Barnes and Co-Host Brent Young are experts on the business side yet still love visiting them. This rare combination lifts the Season Pass above the crowd of theme park podcasts. Unlike the huge crop of Disney shows that paint a rosy view of everything, Doug and Brent give their honest opinions on new attractions. They aren’t afraid to say it when blockbuster rides and shows fall short of expectations. Their discussions with experts of all ages are candid but maintain the excitement about the latest offerings.
While my blog focuses on movies, there are connections between the visual arts and theme parks. The artists working behind the scenes are telling a story and using every means at their disposal to create an immersive world. Doug and Brent understand that even the greatest technology only works if it matches the story that’s being created. While the script is usually thin for a high-flying roller coaster, even those rides are set within a narrative framework. In more than 220 episodes, the Season Pass continues to dig into every aspect of the amusement industry. They don’t simply focus on the giants like Disney and give plenty of time to Six Flags, Cedar Fair, and other companies. They also bring in representatives from the manufacturers that build and design the attractions. This expansive approach keeps the shows intriguing even if I’ve never visited the covered park. It takes a crazy amount of effort to cover such a large quantity of projects. The persistence has paid off and delivered remarkable guests like Bob Gurr, Jerry Rees, Garner Holt, and so many others.
A key factor in the Season Pass' success is the personal connection that Doug and Brent make with listeners. Several summers ago, Doug packed his family in a van and embarked on the “Wheels on I-80” tour. They visited a ton of parks all over the country and interacted with listeners along the way. I was lucky enough to meet up with them at Six Flags St. Louis to take in some rides, and it was a blast. The down-to-earth qualities of the hosts and their frequent guests make it more than just a cool show. Doug seems intent on building up the community and connecting with fans as much as possible. That takes even more dedication, and it’s trickier when it isn’t his full-time job. It’s challenging enough for me to find time for this blog, and doing a podcast with many different guests is so much tougher. Brent is the visual effects supervisor and co-founder of Super 78, and that industry experience gives him great insights about the process of making an attraction. Frequent participants like Robert Coker and Nick Hutson bring even more knowledge and passion to the table.
The Season Pass continues to expand its scope and look for interesting ways to explore the industry. Disney expert Chad Emerson presents the Disney Files to closely examine specific elements. The Seasoned Pros episodes bring together a panel to rate their favorites in categories where every fan has an opinion. The topics have included the best dark rides, steel coasters, and most beautiful parks. Although certain picks come up frequently, there’s hardly a consensus on the top choices. The hosts also frequently record live from the parks and bring us closer to the action. Although it lives in a specific niche, there’s so much variety to please anyone who’s interested in the industry. The show has evolved considerably since its humble beginnings, but the goal remains the same. Doug, Brent, and the entire gang are passionate about the industry and keep looking for new ways to explore it. A podcast is a perfect venue for this type of show, and they make the most of it.