Saturday, December 17, 2022

A minor memorial for Leo Laporte's terrestrial AM radio show

Yes, Leo Laporte will still be broadcasting, just not on terrestrial AM radio. But this is the last weekend of the Tech Guy Show on AM radio (the next couple weekends are reruns), something of an institution here in greater Los Angeles where he's been a Saturday morning fixture since 2004 on KFI, the 50,000-watt talk radio blowtorch of southern California (syndicated on Premiere Radio Networks from the iHeartMedia evil empire). After 1,954 episodes, the toll-free call-in number 1-88-88-ASK-LEO will be retired and it'll be back to podcasts.

Leo, however, has been on radio in one form or another since at least 1976, including an earlier tech show on KGO-AM in the Bay Area, as well as periodically on television. Locally I remember when he was a guest on Bill Handel's morning drive show, also a Los Angeles radio monolith (in particular for his Saturday morning ritual of rapid-fire caller abuse, the best and worst legal show ever). As such, Leo rates a mention on this vintage computing blog because his career spans the 80s and 90s era of tech which was highly personal computer-centric through the modern day, where many people's idea of a computer is a phone or tablet if they even call it that, and overt computer questions aren't even the majority of caller questions anymore. As chips have shrunk, personal computing has become really personal, maybe even excessively so.

I also had the pleasure of being part of his "studio audience" for episode 765 on April 30, 2011. I was in San Francisco for business and decided to book a ticket on the show, broadcast out of beautiful downtown Burbank Petaluma in Sonoma county. At that time the show was on 142 AM stations as well as Sirius XM and around 680 people were in the IRC chatroom, with video streamed over Callers were on the phone and Skype. The sponsors were DSL Extreme, Carbonite, and ESET Nod32 and CyberSecurity for Mac.

Topics on this show included the 2011 Sony PlayStation Network hack, Microsoft's attempts to build up Bing (and the $700 million they lost on it), setting up voice mail on a PC using a USB fax/data modem, sweeping old audio books off an iPod Nano, audio issues over the then-contemporary iOS 30-pin port, converting MKVs with Handbrake for the PlayStation Portable, the Arab Spring, capturing VHS tapes to a media server and cutting commercials, buying a laptop (he recommended the Lenovo ThinkPad X220 and the second-generation Intel MacBook Air), these "new solid state drives" ("you can get away with 64GB in a laptop") and hybrid SSD-HDs, the BlackBerry PlayBook ("I can't do anything with it, but it's pretty!"), finding a good zoom digital camera (he suggested the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS), Kate and William's wedding, on-screen magnification tricks for the visually impaired, scanning your passport to PDF (he pronounces PNG "ping"), improving SD content quality on HDTVs, Roku streaming issues over WiFi, and videos that won't sync to the iPad (Handbrake encore).

The "studio audience" was three people, including me, because in the original studio that's all there was space for. My Canon PowerShot SX1 IS and I got a mention on the show at the 1:06:35 mark on Leo's archived version and my voice is on the broadcast briefly at 1:07:25. I get another shout-out at 1:40:00 along with the other two guests and Leo talks with us for several minutes about the stuff I brought in. Leo only has that show archived as audio, but at least one video and a whole bunch of pictures survives in the Floodgap archives — so I'm typing this on my Quad G5 and uploading my pictures (and one smartphone video) from my Canon and my O.G. Nexus One. Let's head back to a lovely spring day a little over a decade ago.

On my way to the studio at Petaluma Boulevard in my then-ride, a 2008 Honda Civic Si Sedan.
This is the old TWiT Cottage, located at 8 Keller St in Petaluma. The show I attended was one of the last shows broadcast from the Cottage, which was replaced by the current TWiT Brick House in July 2011. I sponsored a brick there; proof at the end.
Among the interesting computing artifacts on display at the Cottage was this print ad for the Atari STacy, one of the two portable Atari ST systems. I'll have to feature the STacy I have here at some point because I've already had the shame of wrecking one in my life when I reconnected the power header wrong and I must make penance.
The studio itself. It was quite small in those days.
We got to sit literally at the other side of the desk while Leo alternated between various pieces of headgear. I'm the geek with the headset in front taking a picture of the screen which had a picture of us.

Here's 47 seconds of video from the show. I brought two elements for show and tell; one of them you can see in this video was my 867MHz Titanium PowerBook G4 with the FireWire-powered WPA WiFi box I hacked up Velcroed to the lid. I posted to Twitter (back when I used it and it didn't suck) from TTYtter over MacSSH in Mac OS 9.2.2, amusing Leo greatly (1:40:50). "Now that's just retro fun!" he said. I even got a mention in the show notes.

During the commercial breaks Leo chatted with us and hammed it up for people streaming the show. Seriously, we felt at home. Everyone treated us as just part of the program and that was a lot of fun.
The other item that I brought was my original suitcase 1970's Commodore KIM-1. Leo was impressed (1:40:45), especially with the little 6502 assembly language program I typed in to show his name on the LEDs. He was particularly honoured to autograph it because why not!
Yes, Dick DiBartolo and his wacky (even MADdening) gadgets segment was on the show back then too (1:49:20) and closed us out. He talked about a "Thunder Shirt" for his dog Fairway, which comforted her during lightning storms.
After the show, photographs with special TWiT headgear! And in these days of plague one now wonders how many heads wore that fez before I did ...
Driving back over Interstate 580 and the Bay on our way back to sunny So Cal.
The studio is currently closed to guests due to the COVIDs, understandably, but at some point I'll get to see my brick.

Thanks for nearly 2,000 episodes, Leo! I know Rich DeMuro (also a longtime LA media figure from KTLA) will do great in the Saturday slot starting in January, but your career covered a lot of ground and a lot of great computers, and the comprehensive library of audio and some video of the weekend Tech Guy Show is just as much an artifact of computing history as the other things I cover here. Tune in tomorrow on your local station at 11am PST for the final episode or stream it online.

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