Behind the scenes at Swellesley: A digital recorder on its death bed spits out 2 last interviews

I’ve probably had my Sony ICD-PX333 digital recorder for 10 years, and it’s served me well, backing me up on interviews when I’m unable to type notes into my laptop or go old school by scribbling on my note pad. I’ve recorded interviews on that device with everyone from big shot tech execs to town officials to everyday people I meet in the course of producing The Swellesley Report.

But earlier this week, the recorder went into permanent “hold” mode, not allowing me to listen to my last couple of interviews. I reaaaally didn’t want to have to subject people to answering my silly questions all over again.

I looked up the recorder  problem online and found plenty of others who had been in the same fix. Some suggested flicking the on/off switch a bunch of times, some holding two buttons at once… all the usual hacks.

I figured it might be worth taking the frozen device to a local retailer that does data recovery, so I swung by Staples in Natick. The tech support guy took an honest stab at fixing my aged recorder while I waited, though in the end, it appeared he was looking up the same questions and answers online that I had.

“If you have a really small screwdriver, you might try taking it apart and wiggling the wire attached to the ‘hold’ button,” he suggested as a last resort.

I’d thought of that too, though my success rate at taking things apart and getting them to work has been unimpressive at best. Everything from doorbells to garbage disposals have long been works in progress at our house. But I had nothing to lose in this case, so I grabbed the teensy screwdriver from my eyeglasses repair kit and went to work, having no intention of ever putting the recorder back together. It was time for a new one anyway.

sony recorderI found a Youtube video on the topic, and followed the narrator’s process to a certain point. I felt semi-confident, as I was generally seeing what he was seeing.

I was blown away when, after flicking the switch on the circuit board repeatedly, I heard the sound of my latest interview with singer-songwriter Frank Turner. I’d already transcribed that one and published it, but it was a couple of slightly older interviews I needed to locate—without the benefit of having any visual cues from the recorder’s now disabled screen.

Patiently clicking golden circles on the circuit board, I found both interviews, and then began the process of capturing the recordings on my iPhone.

One down, one to go…. dang, the flimsy wires to the little speaker broke. Without a welding gun of my own, I grabbed electrical tape and a potato chip bag clamp, and secured the wires. This was a delicate operation, but allowed me to begin re-recording the interviews.

That, of course, is when neighborhood leaf blowing went into high gear, drowning out the interviews… Afraid to relocate my delicate operation from our kitchen table, I waited out…and waited out… the leaf blowers, and finished the job.

While delayed, I ordered a Sony ICD-UX570 Digital Voice Recorder so that I’ll be ready to go for my next interview. 

Meanwhile, I’ve been regaling everyone from my brother in law (who has an electrical engineering degree and was duly impressed by my feat) to all of you about this adventure in ingenuity. So not only did my recorder spit out two last interviews for me, but it gave me a bonus story to write up, too.

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