**So easy your granny can use it

For more years than I can shake a stick at, I’ve been going to listen to speeches or interview people and then having to go home or back to the office and write up a story.

It’s easy enough to do if you’re in a one-on-one interview and you write down the interviewee’s responses to your questions, but things are a bit more difficult when it comes to listening to a speech in an auditorium, and you can’t control the speed at which people speak. The best you can do is write fast, develop a good memory and, a trick of the trade, rush up to the podium at the conclusion of the speech and grab the speaker’s notes.

As an aid to memory, I did try to use a cassette recorder but I found it was too cumbersome and generally the tapes would run out just when you got to the interesting part. On the last two press trips I went on, however, I met other members of the media who use digital voice recorders to record speeches and interviews.

This looked like a jolly good idea, so I popped down to my local electronics store to see what they could offer me. It seems that camera-maker Olympus is one of the major brands in digital voice recorders. The assistant showed me a number of models ranging in price from R400 upwards with varying features and recording capacities.

I eventually settled on an Olympus WS-110 DS, which is a tiny little recorder not much bigger than a cigarette lighter, but which can record high quality speech for 17.5 hours. It has a built-in microphone and speaker, which give good results but an external microphone will improve the quality, as will playing recordings back through headphones or a computer with speakers.

I was soon in action with my new toy when I paid a visit to the whaling station on the Bluff in Durban and had the good fortune to be able to interview whaling skipper Rolf Larsen. I was amazed at the high quality of the recordings that you get out of such a tiny machine and, even though the interview went on in noisy surroundings, I had no trouble reviewing what was said.

I am finding it extremely valuable in all sorts of interview situations, to be able to go back and refer to exactly what was said and by whom. The recorder has not replaced taking notes with pen and paper, in some cases, is all I need, but it’s still a comfort to have a recording available.

The unit has an integrated USB connector on it for downloading the recordings you’ve made into your computer, where you can listen to them. The recorder is able to store files in any of five different folders, which allows you to keep the files for different projects separate.

I was a bit disappointed to find that my usual sound player and editor, Audacity, does not yet support the .WMA sound format produced by the recorder. After a quick look on the Internet however, I found a wonderful new program called Free Audio Editor (free-audio-editor.com), whose name gives you a pretty good idea of how much it costs.

I was very quickly able to download the interview file, listen to it and produce a version with an introduction and the irrelevant chatter cut out. Free Audio Editor is a great little program that only seems to have one slight snag; it can import all sorts of different sound file formats, but can only output sound files in .WAV format. If that’s a problem, you can always upgrade to the deluxe version for $29.95, and output sound in any format you want.

**The blurb says that Free Audio Editor is so easy to use, that even your granny can do so. They didn’t know my granny, clearly, but the program is really very easy to use.

One unexpected little bonus is that the Olympus WS-110 DS came with a copy of Dragon NaturallySpeaking Recorder Edition 9.5. The purpose of this software is to transcribe dictation you’ve recorded, into a word processor. I won’t say too much about the program this time, because both it and I are still in a steep learning curve, but I will return to it in the very near future.

Previous columns at allan-fishnet.blogspot.com.
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