Last month I received a Facebook message indicating that a user was having issues listening to the Tell Us Something podcast on her phone. I thought that the issue was likely related to her download being interrupted by a weak cell signal. I tested listening to the podcast by loading the episode in question from the Tell Us Something website on a desktop computer. It played as expected and I told her to try again. I didn’t think anything about it for a while.
At the live Tell Us Something event this month — “Oldest Trick in the Book”, I received two more messages from two different users about two different podcasts failing to play on their phones. Unable to do anything about the issue at the time, I made a note to check into it.
The next day, I attempted to play a the episodes mentioned by these users and the behavior was that the MP3 file uploaded to a Squarespace hosted website plays as expected via streaming through any modern desktop web browser. Tested on Mac and Windows based machines. The same behavior is exhibited when downloading and playing the file locally using VLC or some other desktop based app.
When the same file is played on a mobile device using that device’s native apps — via streaming or download, the audio drops out after the introduction and picks up again during the “outro”/thank you/credits.
The unexpected behavior occurred on both Android and iOS devices. Issue seemed to be regardless of make/model and regardless of the version of the operating system.
I heard hissing when the story should be taking place so thought that the cause was in the mix of the podcast rather than some way the player is interpreting the file.
Jason Weiner of the Techxorcist was helpful in attempting to solve the issue. He pulled the VLC log files from his Android device and sent them to me. [Thanks, Jason!] I posted to a VLC forum, but there was no response.
Meanwhile, I worked with the podcast producer, Nathan Zavolney of Missoula Soundworks to try to determine the root cause, being careful not to blame him. I tested one of the problem files.
As a test to remove as many variables as possible, I installed an FTP client on my phone. I then downloaded the new Alex Alvier conversion [which was supposed to have been fixed] from Nathan’s Tell Us Something FTP site and listened to it. The behavior is the same: intro and outro play as expected, but where the storyteller should be speaking there is dead air.
I tested each episode in the June 2015 – Oops! I Changed My Mind series all with the same result.
I went back to the February episodes and they all behave as expected. All audio is present in them.
I spot checked some earlier 2014 episodes and found no issues.
Because I downloaded the files directly to my device and removed as many other variables as possible, we knew that removing those variables removes them as a potential culprit.
The issue was unrelated to Squarespace, iTunes, or any web browser. It was unrelated to the metadata that I add to the file that I get from the Nathan after he is finished with it because I did not perform that step.
I played the files using the FTP app’s native player. All files prior to the June 2015 event play as expected. All of the June 2015 files failed to play correctly.
After I reported the testing results to Nathan, he called to say that he believes that the issue is related to the right and left channels of the raw WAV file that I provide him to edit. He performed whatever magic he does with the editing software using this new knowledge and the issue was resolved.
Nathan fixed all of the problematic files and I just finished applying the metadata to them again and replacing the problematic files with the fixed files on the Tell Us Something website. I then re-tested all of the episodes from my phone and they all work as expected.
I’ll work again with Nathan to look at the settings on the recording device itself to be pro-active in preventing this issue from happening in the future.
Thanks, Nathan, for all of your continued hard work, and thanks to all who reported the behavior to me and all who helped solve the issue!