aNewDomain.net — Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Leo Laporte’s TWiT Brick House studio — ie., the Podcast Mecca — in Petaluma, CA. When I arrived Leo was beginning to record Windows Weekly Episode 373: Sausage Fest. Find that show below.
Now I know that our John C. Dvorak is a regular on the show. And anewdomain editor Gina Smith, who used to host a national radio show with Leo, had been a guest over there. So it might not be a big deal to them, but it was to me. And I thought I’d document the experience for all you tech lovers out there who’d like to know what the TWiT Brick House is like from someone who may not be so, ahem, jaded. So read below for my impressions of the zen of podcasting, as practiced by chief TWiT Leo Laporte at the TWiT Brick House headquarters.
Six people and I were stuffed into Leo’s office as he recorded the show. All told, there were three fan boys, two couples and me. My wife wasn’t there. She opted to wander around Petaluma’s quaint antique shops and tea lounges instead of staying to witness the magic. The demographic of those watching was a bit surprising. It was more of a gray beard crowd than young folks. I didn’t expect that. As we watched, Leo’s dog Ozzie sniffed around.
My initial impression of the hybrid studio/office was that it was full of clutter, and loads of it. Old tech books, heaps of monitors, geek odds and ends, keyboards, cameras, mobile devices and lights were scattered everywhere. A product, Harry’s Shaving Kit, sat in a box on Leo’s desk. Later, it would be part of the commercial break.
Leo’s style, on camera and off, is informal and friendly. He talks and laughs casually with those of us watching in his office, which put everyone at ease. He joked with one of audience members, a guy that had a full beard (whose wife did not want the beard). He ended up giving him Harry’s Shaving Kit. And later, I heard someone on the staff complain because Leo had given away the only shaving kit they had.
Meet Leo, your host
While watching, it seems like Leo is simply shooting the breeze with Paul Thurrott, his co-host for this episode. But the truth is that Leo is working — he watches the monitors that broadcast the co-host, he manages both the chat room and the on-the-air stream and he queues videos and stills. He also reviews the topic rundown and deals with his online iMac, and I’m sure I’m missing something else he does. Leo seems to easily juggle all of it– seamlessly — using just his right hand and his console. Check out the photo below.
Leo is a serious multitasker during the program. The console on his right has a button that toggles the studio on and off the air. He constantly goes off the air, switching off his mic to do things like unpack a new phone that arrived during the show. Or he goes off hair to fiddle with a tablet, order lunch, eat bites of lunch, yawn or just drum his fingers on the desktop.
At first, you wonder if Leo is bored or not paying attention while off the air, but then he toggles back on and offers an astute comment or asks a good question. He is attentive to the on-air conversation at all times.
Leo isn’t nervous, but he fidgets a lot. And he seems totally relaxed while he rolls around or bounces on the large rubber ball he sits on. That relaxation comes through in the show and you feel it when you meet it.
But Leo is meticulous. After unpacking his new phone or the Harry’s shaving kit, he carefully repackaged both — during off-air moments. He does things properly, leaving no loose ends. TWiT follows that lead, much as you’d expect.
As soon as he finished Windows Weekly and posed for souvenir photos, Leo switched his attention to the upcoming episode of This Week in Google. He switched context as completely and quickly as when he went off-air for a bite of lunch. Yet all the while he is laid back, focused and mindful.
The guy is just a total broadcasting pro.
TWiT Studio – The Brick House
The TWiT studio is also seriously professional. It is filled with workstations for monitoring and controlling broadcasts — and for quickly editing video.
There are lots of sets in the studio. They are used for groups of in-studio participants and other shows. A few minutes after the end of Windows Weekly, Leo moved to another set to prepare This Week in Google with Jeff Jarvis and Gina Trapani. As shown below, the audience sees Jeff and Gina in monitors behind Leo, while he sees them on monitors behind the audience.
If you are a TWiT fan, you are used to the format in which programs begin with a brief summary of the upcoming episode, the title and a short promo for each of the sponsors. As soon as the show went off the air, Leo asked the chat room to suggest a show title — and then extemporaneously recorded what would become the intro to the show when it was posted online. No effort, totally natural and done in a minute. He’s done this zillions of times, and it shows.
If you are interested in seeing a state of the art podcasting facility and having some fun when you do it — and you don’t mind driving about an hour north of San Francisco the next time you are in the Bay Area — I heartily recommend a visit to the TWiT Brick House. The technology and buzz are reminiscent of the pre-slick, early days of live television and radio, when you felt the sense of good humored, spontaneous experimentation and often saw or heard about the broadcasting technology as they enjoyed the show. That was cool.
Oh, and just in case you think I am making this up, check out this picture with Leo after the show. Yes, we’re wearing the obligatory TWiT fezes. That’s me, at left.
For aNewDomain.net, I’m Larry Press.
Based in Los Angeles, Larry Press is a founding senior editor covering tech here ataNewDomain.net. He’s also a professor of information systems at California State University at Dominguez Hills. Check his Google+ profile — he’s +Larry Press — or email him at Larry@aNewDomain.net.