Posted on October 13, 2008
Recording phone calls: For reporters
Update (April 6, 2012): Recording phone interviews: A solution that works
I’ve been asked dozens of times, “What do you use to record phone interviews?” My answer: A device I bought at Radio Shack for about $20 many years ago. This plugs into both the phone line (at the wall jack) and any recording device with a mini-jack. It records both speakers at an equal volume level.
I found five suitable devices today:
- “Smart” Phone Recorder Control, $29.99 (This is the model closest to the old one I still use.)
- Wireless Phone Recording Controller, $3.97 (I haven’t tried this, but it looks great for cell phones!)
- Mini Recorder Control, $17.99
- Olympus Mini Tele-Recording Device, $21.99 (This one seems to be lacking the phone jack connector.)
- Recorder Control, $26.99 (This is also similar to the old one I have.)
Using a direct-connect device such as these is 100 times better than recording from the speaker on the phone. You eliminate all extraneous noise and get exactly the sound that is on the phone line. The quality is usually good enough to use online, so a phone recorder is a great tool for your multimedia reporting.
I would be remiss if I failed to caution you about staying within the laws of your state. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has an online guide ( “Can We Tape?”), but it was last updated in 2003. The laws do vary in different U.S. states, and of course, different countries have different laws.
Here are the FCC’s rules for recording phone conversations — but that’s only U.S. federal law, and state laws can differ.
A rule of thumb is to have the consent of both parties, verbally, at the start of your recording. ( “Is it all right with you if I record this phone call?” “Yes.” “I will be using some parts of the audio online. Is that okay with you?” “Yes.”) But that is ONLY a rule of thumb. If one of you is in a jurisdiction that prohibits recording of phone calls, then you’re breaking the law, and you surely don’t want to post that audio online later!
I would also caution you never to lose or alter the original recording. When it’s time to edit, always make a copy of the audio file, and work from that.