Lamenting the Loss of Audio

After Jennie Magiera talked so passionately during her ISTE Keynote about telling our students’ stories, and our true stories, I decided that I would make it my mission this year to do exactly that. I would wipe away all pretense from my blog, remove the glossy coating, and just be real.

In the effort of that mission, I write this post. This is a true story about my own failures, without sugar coating, without happy ending, and without major takeaways. This is me, and my imperfections.

Last week, on Monday, I did my first live stream. I’ve been working with VoicEd Radio and have seen a lot of great results and connections as a result of that partnership. When I first met with Stephen Hurley (the creator of the network), he told me that in addition to airing my podcast, the network also provides a live space to do more with. That thought had bounced around in my brain for a little over a month, and one of the ideas I came up with was to do a recording for my podcast live on the air. The thought for the live steam was that it would be a behind-the-scenes look at creating an episode of the Planning Period Podcast, letting the audience listen to the pre-interview, unedited interview with all the awkward silences and verbal fidgeting, and the post-interview ramblings.

Let me paint the scene for you. Ashley McBride (my guest) and I started our Skype call a few minutes before 8:30 PM and I quickly explained what I was planning. I checked levels, checked microphones, checked recordings. I’m paranoid about losing audio, so I always record in three different places:

  1. I record my own audio on a second mic on a second computer. I also typically ask my guest to record their own audio locally so I can recover from their computer if needed. However, the last time I recorded an interview, that messed up on me and since I had other types of backup, I didn’t worry about that this time.
  2. I setup a virtual soundboard to take two inputs and make them one virtual output. I ran Audacity in the background to capture the virtual output (sound from the Skype call and my own microphone).
  3. I have an automated program that starts recording all my Skype calls as soon as they start. I’ve used that for the last seven or so episodes and it has been flawless.

The last piece of this moving digital puzzle was the broadcasting software. I was using Rocketcaster (on Stephen’s recommendation). This software outputs the sound from both my microphone and speakers to the radio network, and is a very small program, so it wouldn’t tax my computer. Stephen also informed me that the audio from the network is archived automatically.

8:30 came and I hit broadcast on Rocketcaster. All was going great! I left my Echo tuned into VoicEd Radio until I heard my voice and Ashley’s come through on the live stream (a brief four second delay), and then stopped my monitoring, and proceeded with my pre-interview (of course, activating Alexa live on the air, because I’m a professional!).

Other than my own unprofessional persona, things were going great. Ashley and I have met before, so we already had a decent rapport, and we had plenty to talk about in the pre-interview, catching up on what we have been up to since ISTE. I talked with the audience a little, and Stephen even popped into our back-channel to say he could hear us great but couldn’t stay to listen to the whole show. Around 8:55, the pre-interview was pretty much finished and we got ready to record the real podcast interview.

Right around 9 o’clock, things took a turn. Ashley started saying “Brad? Brad, are you there? I’ve lost you.” Checking my computer, I could see that Rocketcaster had frozen up and Audacity had stopped recording my audio. Quickly, I closed Rocketcaster and reopened it. I saw my audio levels registering as well as Ashley’s, and she could hear me again. She even got a text from her dad saying he could hear us loud and clear.

Figuring that the glitch had been caused by too many running programs on my computer, I closed Audacity. I’m still being recorded in two other places (auto-recorded Skype program and VoicEd network auto-archive) I thought, so it should be fine.

And so it was. Ashley and I had a great conversation. Lively and exciting, thought provoking, covering tons of educational issues. We went the full hour and a half, and honestly could have gone longer. When I pointed out that we only had 10 minutes left, Ashley was shocked. “Really,” she asked skeptically. “I didn’t have any idea. This has been so much fun.”

The next morning, I wrote an email to Stephen, telling him how happy I was, that our experiment had been a success and we could talk about it more when he got back in town.

Yesterday, he got back in town and wrote me back. He informed me that he listened to the archived version and we were only on air for about 30 minutes. I was bummed. Ashley and I had done a great live show, and no one heard it. I started to write a reply to Stephen, in which I wrote “Well, there’s nothing to be done about it now. I still have my recording, so I can release it as an episode and next time will be better.” As I wrote it though, I realized I hadn’t actually gone back and checked my last remaining recording.

As you will probably be unsurprised by now, that recording failed too. For some strange reason, when the audio crashed out of the network, the automated recorder stopped picking up the sound from my microphone, even though Ashley could still hear me.

I was devastated. I lament the loss of that interview. There was a lot of work that went into creating that, a lot of time, effort, and energy. But you will never hear that audio. It is over an hour of Ashley talking to silence. She says some great things, but without the context of a discussion, it just isn’t usable.

Sure, I know what went wrong. I have plans to fix it in the future. This was an experiment, and I knew there was a chance of failure. I know all those things. Believe all those things. And yet, what I can’t stop believing is this:

Failure sucks.