GREENVILLE, North Carolina
Even before there was an audience, Jackson Robol had a knack for talking about sports.
His parents would hear him call play-by-play as he watched football and basketball upstairs and wondered if their son, who has autism, might benefit from having his voice heard beyond those four walls. A year and a half later, Jackson has gained more than 1,500 subscribers for a podcast he records from his bedroom.
The Jackson Robol Show host recently celebrated his 250th episode, all before he graduated from high school. Since the Ayden-Grifton High School cross-country team member set it up in August 2020, the podcast has taken off, growing from a sports show based on community conversations to a high-profile series. scope that includes a bit of back-and-forth with business owners and even conversations with celebrities.
“I interview a lot of people,” Jackson said from his bedroom/studio, surrounded by caps, posters and pennants of the Denver Broncos, San Antonio Spurs and other favorite teams.
This is not a boast; it’s an honest assessment. Delivered in the same direct style that can be heard on his podcast, that’s also a bit of an understatement. Over the past 18 months, the 18-year-old has presented shows featuring everyone from podcasters to pastors and politicians, athletes to actors and others with autism.
The show’s reach is wider than Ken and Anne Marie Robol envisioned when they first came up with the idea for a podcast for their son, who had spent the spring of 2020 learning remotely by due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m a teacher by trade, so I’ve been home for a year and a half,” said Ken, a former radio host. “We never thought anyone would really listen.”
Ken helped Jackson record and edit his first interview, a conversation with Washington’s Allen Ray Pittman, a trainer whose son has autism. “His (son)’s name is Jacob, by the way,” said Jackson, who has an amazing ability to remember names.
This first interview was a positive experience for Jackson, a high school student who is interested in a potential career as a broadcaster. He quickly started looking for future guests.
“He had a lot of friends say, ‘Hey, I got someone you can interview,'” Anne Marie said. “It just sort of took on a life of its own after that.”
It wasn’t long before Jackson was lining up additional interviews with fellow coaches as well as educators, authors and musicians. As more and more guests came on board, so did the listeners, sometimes only a few dozen, but sometimes hundreds or even thousands.
“I feel like he started this podcast at such a critical time in the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mackinsay Glover, autism services coordinator for the Autism Society of North Carolina, who has worked with Jackson for nearly two years. “During this time, we could all use a little positivity to brighten our spirits, and I feel like Jackson does just that. He makes people laugh, smile. More importantly, I think he connects people with others during such a difficult time.
In addition to his Autism Society connections, Jackson was aided by a few publicists who began following him online. One based in Nashville, Tennessee allowed Jackson to book interviews with musicians including Jonathan Antoine of “Britain’s Got Talent” fame and with Damon Johnson, a solo artist and former lead guitarist for the band. AliceCooper.
More celebrity interviews followed, including actress and recording artist Darcy Donovan (“Anchorman,” “My Babysitter’s a Vampire” and “Six Feet Under”) and Emma Burman, a voice actress featured in the feature film. Disney/Pixar 2021 animation “Luca.”
Jackson conducts research online to select and converse with his interview subjects, such as John Ondrasik III, known by his stage name Five for Fighting.
“He’s a dad, a hockey fan, a songwriter, an award winner, and a cool guy,” Jackson said of introducing Ondrasik during a November podcast.
“Thank you for being a guest on my show,” he told the Grammy nominee, to which Ondrasik replied, “I’ve heard a lot about your show.”
While Jackson begins almost every podcast by inviting his guests to tell listeners about themselves, he sometimes asks friends and listeners to suggest questions to include on a show. He recently surprised Canadian actress Catherine Mary Stewart (“The Last Star Fighter” and “Weekend at Bernie’s”) by asking her what movie she would have liked to star in if she could have gone back in time. (His answer? The 1980 hit “Fame.”)
Although Jackson said talking with celebrities doesn’t make him nervous, his sports fanatic side is evident in interviews with athletes such as Dalton Risner of the Denver Broncos and Thomas Hennessy of the New York Jets. Still, some of his favorite interviews have been with other podcasters, such as Rio Robinson of “Rambling about Washington” or announcers like John Sadak of the Cincinnati Reds.
“He doesn’t discriminate between the people he interviews,” Glover said. “He’ll interview everyone he can, which I think is why this show has grown so much and people love it so much.
“I think throughout the process he’s had such a positive response because of his outgoing personality,” she said, “and I think more people are learning the message he represents.”
Jackson helped send a message about the abilities of people with autism through interviews with guests who are on the autism spectrum, including advocates like Ryan Lee, Daniel Svoboda and Anand Prahlad, author of the award-winning book “The Secret Life of a Black”. Aspie” and director of creative writing at the University of Missouri. But hosting isn’t the only role in which Jackson serves as something of an ambassador for autism.
“For a while there, it was for all types of businesses. For some businesses, Jackson was their very first exposure to an autistic person,” Ken said. “That’s what I hope is that Jackson will be a vehicle to introduce a lot of people who don’t necessarily know much about people with special needs or the diversity of people. We always assume everyone knows (but) they don’t.
In June 2021, Jackson had the chance to broadcast live from the General Assembly, when House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne) hosted him and his family.
“He asked people about their food, if they like movies, what kind of music they like, just little personal things just to try to make the reps friendlier,” Anne Marie said. “They all had fun with it.”
Jackson remembers asking North Carolina Rep. Erin Paré how she liked to eat macaroni and cheese. His answer ? With ketchup.
“I’m like, ‘Why would you put ketchup on mac and cheese? he remembered, laughing. ” ‘I can not do it. I don’t want to hear you say it.
Other live-streaming opportunities came at the Raleigh Film and Art Festival, where Jackson connected with actress Jen Lyon (“Claws”), and the State Fair, where he been invited to set up shop at the fairgrounds for a special disabled access day.
“I feel like people, being exposed, see autism is how different people are,” Anne Marie said. “Once they started talking to him and realized how smart he is, I think people really like talking to him.”
Jackson was also asked to host interviews last fall for a promotional video for Awaken Coffee, a nonprofit coffee shop launched in Greenville to employ people with disabilities. As part of filming the project, Evolve Advertising created a custom “The Jackson Robol Show” graphic that is now used at the start of every podcast.
As his show progressed, Jackson took on more production responsibilities. He now records the shows himself, having taken over that role, as well as setting up interviews, from his father. Her next goal is to learn how to edit her own interviews for posting on social media.
Another goal is to reach 10,000 Facebook followers in hopes of being able to generate revenue. Already, the podcast has secured some financial support from local sponsors.
“The audience, we are going to get 500 views. It’s not Mr. Beast, but it’s going in the right direction,” Ken said. “We are humbled and amazed to see where he has gone.”
Some of the podcast’s viewers, including some from out of state, are parents and grandparents of autistic children and teens who take encouragement from Jackson’s success.
“I feel like his success and growth through the podcast has really made people realize that we’re all part of the community,” Glover said. “Everyone has a role, has a place and has a voice. Sometimes, for people with autism, it can be difficult to hear that voice due to various factors, but Jackson literally shares his voice with the world through his podcast.
“I think he teaches people that if you stop to take a moment and have a real conversation with others, regardless of your ability or disability, you can really learn something and build a relationship and build that meaning. from the community.”
To listen to The Jackson Robol Show, visit www.facebook.com/jacksonrobolmedia.