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Tech empire TWiT has strong Petaluma ties

Leo Laporte has turned a 10,000-square-foot brick building in Petaluma into an unexpected tech hub, boasting a multi-million dollar business that produces some of the world’s most popular podcasts.

Now, the longtime radio personality and Petaluma resident, is planning to move TWiT, the continually-expanding media empire he built from the ground up, to another location - though he’s keeping it close to home.

“We never even entertained the idea of leaving Petaluma,” he said in an email. “I’ve lived here for more than 20 years, and Lisa Laporte, my wife and business partner is a lifelong native. Someday I hope TWiT will be to Petaluma as ESPN is to Bristol, Connecticut.”

He’ll take his team of 24 employees from the current Keller Street location, where he’s been since he moved from his home studio in 2011, across town to Petaluma’s Redwood Business Park by the end of summer or early fall, he said. Construction on the new studio is already underway.

He said relocating TWiT.tv, which broadcasts 21 different shows seven days a week, won’t impact staffing, and most audiences shouldn’t see a difference, as they’re taking the sets on the road with them.

TWiT, now in its 11th year, boasts podcasts that are currently ranked the sixth most popular in the world, and their previous content is available on iTunes. The shows are tech driven, and TWiT’s revenue is exclusively ad-based. The company reported $9 million in revenue for the 2015 fiscal year.

Laporte’s success is supported by a long tech-related career where he took a lot of chances.

The New York native fostered an insatiable fascination with all things tech through a radio gig while he studied Chinese history at Yale University before dropping out of the college his junior year. Laporte started at the Yale Broadcast Channel as a DJ, warming up his then-unbeknownst career as a radio host.

After Yale, Laporte moved west. He ended up in San Jose and San Francisco in the late 1980s, doing shows for KNBR until 1992. As Laporte sifted through his shows, dipping his toes in trades and professions, he came to a realization: nobody wanted to talk about computers.

“It was really strange,” he said. “All these experts, and they never scheduled a single computer guy.”

Laporte changed that in 1991 when he and fellow broadcaster and tech aficionado John Dvorak started his first computer-exclusive talk show.

“It was a great time,” Laporte recalled. “I’ve never had a show where I was joining the conversations as much as introducing the experts. It was a new concept, and we were hot.”

So hot that a small tech firm approached Laporte in 1992. Its name was CNET.

“By then we were a syndicated radio show,” he said. “When CNET offered to pick us up and do more shows, we knew we made it.”

Though CNET did pick up the show, and Dvorak would stay for a number of years, the job wasn’t a good fit for Laporte, who left after disagreements with CNET’s vision for the show’s future. By then, Laporte caught the TV bug, and he went straight there. Until 1998, he hosted shows on MSNBC and ZDTV, which later turned into TechTV.

After it was sold to Comcast, Laporte left TechTV to return to radio, hosting shows with KFI Los Angeles and a daily Canadian broadcast titled “Call for Help,” where he offered advice in the tech world. In 2004, “The Tech Guy,” the first show he produced on his own, and the following year, TWiT LLC, the broadcast, netcast and podcast company he owns with his wife, was created in “The Cottage,” a studio he rented in Petaluma.

“The name was submitted by a viewer,” Laporte said. “Initially, we wanted to revive ‘Screen Savers’, a show I did with TechTV, but we received a cease and desist that made it impossible. Someone suggested ‘This Week in Geek’, and I really liked it, but didn’t want to use geek. Then the bombshell hit, and ‘This Week in Tech’ was our winner.”

Today, the tech enthusiast has a lot of traction. TWiT doesn’t rely on radio coverage anymore for its demographic, and its podcasts and videos are globally accessible, giving Laporte the audience he needs to keep his studio running. But why stick with a name when its initials spell TWiT? Laporte responded with a laugh.

“It’s got the right amount of self-deprecating humor to it,” he said. “It perfectly describes me!”

(Community Editor Hannah Beausang contributed to this report. Contact Will Rohrs at argus@arguscourier.com)

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