a time — in a proto-Internet Age when the first-generation Pentium CPU was
under development inside Intel’s labs — Leo Laporte was a weekday talk radio
host at KNBR(AM) in San Francisco.
“Then this guy named Rush Limbaugh came
along and put me and about 550 other midday broadcasters out of work,” Laporte
deadpans. “So I ended up working weekends, doing a call-in show about
From those humble roots, Laporte has
grown to become a “tech broadcast” guru.
His weekend radio show, “Leo Laporte:
The Tech Guy,” is syndicated by Premiere Radio Networks to about 160 U.S.
stations and Sirius XM. Meanwhile, Laporte’s weekly podcast “This Week in
Technology” — aka TWiT — has become the flagship podcast/program of TWiT.tv. If
you saw Laporte visiting the Ham Reception at this spring’s NAB Show, you know
how well regarded he is among the techie crowd.
Operating out of the new “TWiT Brick
House” studios in Petaluma, Calif., TWiT.tv now offers a range of
technology-focused streaming video/audio shows. Thanks to Laporte’s innovative
approach to advertising, TWiT.tv cleared $4 million last year and is on the
road to making $6 million this year.
Leo Laporte, center,
is flanked virtually by ‘Ham Nation’ hosts Gordon West and Bob Heil in a Skype
Hill, bottom, is an expert on amateur television.
This view shows the techie feel and multi-set layout
of the Brick House.
“We’re profitable, even though we have
a staff of 16,” says Laporte. “That’s no small achievement for an Internet
Rise of a
Leo Laporte’s ascension to tech guru
fame was boosted by his television shows on TechTV, a turn-of-the millennium
cable network dedicated to technology programs.
The TWiT Brick House opened this summer.
“Unfortunately, it cost about $50
million annually to keep TechTV going,” he says. “So when Paul Allen sold it in
2004, I focused on my weekend radio gig. Eventually I turned that into a
syndicated show, but I still had five days a week to deal with. I needed
something to fill my time.”
That “something” was to produce “This
Week in Technology,” which started as a weekly podcast. The popularity of TWiT
motivated him to offer other podcasts at www.TWiT.tv, which moved him inexorably towards live streaming
video — shot and available live, or accessible afterwards on demand.
to broadcast or cable television, streaming video is extremely inexpensive,”
Laporte says. “I can produce an hour’s worth of content for $1,000 all in, as
compared to the $5,000–$7,000 an hour demanded by conventional TV production.
One saving is that we go live; there’s no money spent in post-production
menu of tech-centric shows such as Bob Heil’s “Ham Nation,” “Windows Weekly With
Paul Thurrott” and “iPad Today” with Laporte and co-host Sarah Lane — and
there’s lots of reasons for people to log on and watch for free.
truly figured out how to make Internet broadcasting work,” says Heil, founder
and CEO of Heil Sound.
Kirk Harnack, who co-hosts TWiT.tv’s “This Week in Radio Tech,” “Leo makes technology
accessible without dumbing it down. He is the right person in the right place
for this kind of innovative programming.” Harnack’s full-time job is executive
director of sales and marketing for the Telos Alliance.
facility uses Canon VIXIA HF G10 HD camcorders.
How he does it
defies conventional wisdom about the Internet, because it makes money while
offering free content. How does Laporte do it?
when it comes to advertisers, “I only have three sponsors per show — one per
half hour — and the ad is restricted to a single, longer-form commercial read
by the host,” he says.
that Internet users would not tolerate a stack of nine spots back-to-back, and
I also knew that host endorsements have real power. So we have adopted this
approach, which hearkens back to radio’s earliest days, and it works.
sponsors, which include Ford, GE and tech companies like Citrix and
Audible.com, are willing to pay $80 CPM for this kind of exposure.”
TWiT.tv’s studio consists of four sets centered on a single “operator console”
that includes all of the network’s production controls.
video from 30 consumer camcorders mounted throughout the studio, plus a few
pan-and-tilt cameras,” Laporte says. “The video is switched using a Tricaster, and
the audio is handled by a Telos Axia Element, which that company provided as
part of its work with us.” Laporte also has purchased a smaller Axia Radius for
use in his own studio.
Looking out from TWiT.tv’s ‘operator
production is handled by a single operator, which keeps costs way down. Guests
in distant locations are brought in via video Skype, their images shown on
large LCDs located beside the on-air host.
switcher is part of the show, just like a board operator on a radio station,”
he says. “They add to the show, which is why they have a camera and lights on
keeps its bandwidth costs down to a bare minimum, by having bandwidth providers
such as AOL, Cachefly, Ustream.tv, Justin.tv, YouTube and bit gravity
distribute its shows. “They carry our shows using their own bandwidth, which
makes this model work for us.”
combining the best parts of TV, radio and the Web, and figuring out how to attract
advertisers to buying time on streamed media, Leo Laporte appears to have
cracked the challenge of making Internet broadcasting pay.
he’s not resting on any laurels. “We still have more time slots to fill out in
our schedule, to make it truly 24/7,” Laporte says. “My goal is to be the CNN
of tech broadcasting. We’re not there yet, but by building a studio that looks
good to our viewers and adding more shows, we are well on our way.”
List for the TWiT Brick House
Sonic.net Flexlink “Ethernet in the First Mile” (EFM, also known as IEEE 802.3ah).
This connection is 35Mbps symmetrical. It is used for most of the Skype calls
during the netcasts and to stream out the BitGravity, Ustream and Justin.tv
video. The studio has two EFM connections, one for the streams and video calls,
the other as the studio LAN. Also: ISDN Line from AT&T is used to stream
studio audio to and from the Premiere Radio Networks studios for “The Tech Guy”
show. A Comcast fiber optic cable connection is coming soon and will provide a
100 Mbit symmetrical connection in conjunction with the EFM.
with Heil mic
Telos Axia Element control console and Powerstation processing unit (main
mixer); Telos Axia Radius console (Laporte’s mixer)
Heil Sound PR40 dynamic table mics with BSW
RE27POP filters; Countryman headset mics; Heil Sound PL2T Boom Mount
AKG K240 DF; Ultimate Ears 4 Pro in-ear-monitors
TWiT.am Audio Stream
Barix Instreamer 100
Canon VIXIA HF G10 Full HD Camcorder with Blackmagic Design HDMI to SDI Mini
Blackmagic Design SmartView Duo SDI displays
Tricaster 8500 Extreme with 850CS control surface
Blackmagic Design Broadcast Videohub 72x144
Computers and Monitors
Many TWiT hosts use various models of MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, with
exceptions like Brian Brushwood, often seen with a 17-inch Windows-based
140 lighting fixtures purchased, installed and configured by Brent Bye of Ocean
Studio, Santa Monica.