chlidlisteningtoaudobooksMy father—no, he’s not the one in the photo—can now listen to audiobooks in MP3 format. I got him started via a boom box that took USB drives. He’s been enjoying it, but ran into a problem when loading up a book from LibriVox—it started playing completely out of order! A little research determined that this is not an uncommon problem for people who play audiobooks from USB. What to do?

I’ll show you.

A lot of people listen to audiobooks on e-reader hardware like tablets and smartphones—devices that run software that queues up the tracks and plays them in order automatically. But people who use devices that aren’t so smart—radios or car stereos that take USB thumb drives, or USB-loading MP3 players—often run into the problem of copied files playing out of order. The reason has to do with the FAT file system type that thumb drives often use.

The nice thing about FAT is that, unlike competing file system NTFS, it doesn’t cache data when copying files over, so it’s not as likely to be messed up by yanking it out without telling the computer to “eject” it. But the drawback is that it doesn’t alphabetize files, but plays them in whatever order they’re copied to it. And Windows often copies files out of order. This means that an audiobook that looks perfectly fine to play when you download it—and will play just great from a media player on a computer—could play in any order once you copy it to a thumb drive and stick it in a radio.

One potential solution is simply to copy the files one at a time in the correct order—but if you have a very long audiobook, or one that’s been split into many individual files, that can be tedious. Fortunately, for people running Windows, help is at hand in the form of a free utility called FAT Sorter. When you run it, you tell it which drive letter represents your thumb drive and click the “sort” button. FAT Sorter takes a few seconds to sort the files out for you, showing a progress bar that tells you how long until it’s finished.

So, if you’re copying audiobook files to a thumb drive—or songs from a record album, or any other sound files that meant to play in the same order in which they’re named—simply run FAT Sorter on the drive before you eject it, and they should play in perfect order when you plug them into your radio.

Image credit: Here. No, the child won’t be into FAT sorter right now, but his parents might be, once they know about it.