HOME

Teaching Online Journalism

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:

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.


Categories: audio, reporting


22 Comments

  1. Adam says:

    The Olympus device lacks a phone jack because it is simply a microphone that’s placed in the ear. I have one and it works fairly well, but I’m not sure any of the more expensive solutions you’ve listed are worth their asking price.

    I would much rather have a software solution on my iPhone. (Are you listening, developers?) Initiating calls via Skype and recording them on the computer is another option, too.

  2. Dave Stanton says:

    I’ve had good success using GrandCentral to record conversations when I don’t have a RJ45-based phone line. You do have to have the source call you back at your GrandCentral number, which forwards to your cell or any other number. Then, just press “4″ on the phone keypad to start recording. Both parties are notified. The end result is a clean MP3 ready for download.

  3. Mindy says:

    Yes, there are a few audio recording apps for the iPhone, but most of them are aimed at people who want to record a voice memo to themselves. Not what we need for journalism!

  4. Chris Amico says:

    I’ve done well using Audio Hijack Pro and Skype (which has the added benefit of not bankrupting me on international calls). If you’re on a PC, there’s a free service (called Pamela, I think) that gives you 15 minutes free and announces it’s recording. You need a USB headset, though. Otherwise you end up with computer microphone quality audio, no good at all.

  5. Dave Bullard says:

    I use Skype (a cheap Skype-In number), Pamela (there are other recording plugins for Skype, but Pamela can be configured to start automatically on every call, so you never forget and you never up-cut the start of the call) and a dirt-cheap USB microphone.

    Our US Senator, Chuck Schumer, does nearly weekly conference calls with reporters and I use this setup to record flawless audio.

    Pamela records in mp3, which I can immediately upload through our WordPress-powered site and have the audio almost instantly available in full.

    Sometimes, if time allows, I’ll open the audio in Soundslides and add stills of the person talking in order to give it some visual interest.

  6. Dan Kubiske says:

    Gotta add to Dave Bullard’s comments on Skype Pamela. It really works well. There is also a version for the video calls on Skype.

    I originally looked into this for an online class I am preparing.

    Both add-ons are really great.

  7. Mindy says:

    Thanks, Dave and Dan. Pamela for Skype:

    http://www.pamela-systems.com/

  8. Josh says:

    For the Mac, there’s a $15 app from Ecamm called Call Recorder that works great. Records both audio and video. Have also used GrandCentral — works great.

  9. Mindy says:

    How are you guys finding the audio quality with Skype? I have used it only for calls and videoconferences with Europe, and there tends to be a bit of cutting out and such, not so nice for playback.

    Do you find that not happening often?

  10. [...] Recording phone calls: For reporters. Mindy McAdams rounds up some info on tools for recording telephone interviews. [...]

  11. Mike C says:

    Really wish iPhone had this app, would make life much easier. At any rate, I too, probably use the same device you do. Got it at RadioShack. Works great. Strangely enough it sounds much better when I connect it to an old analog rotary phone. One of those ancient “Ma Bell” issued models. I use that when I need higher quality audio.

  12. Dave Bullard says:

    You can listen for yourself to the quality we got from Skype/Pamela.

    http://oswegocountytoday.com/uncategorized/2008/10/01/clinton-plans-to-hold-my-nose-and-vote-for-bailout/

    This is a Hillary Clinton conference call with a huge number of New York State reporters.

    I put the audio into Soundslides with a graphic just to give it a little visual interest.

    I’ve had the odd audio issue with VOIP. Once, the audio was badly garbled. It was a local call. I simply told the source I would call back. When I did, the line was nice and clean.

  13. Dave Bullard says:

    I would add that I think the quality issue would be more apparent on video calls than on audio calls because of the high amount of bandwidth needed for video.

  14. [...] Recording phone calls: For reporters [...]

  15. cathryn says:

    I’d like a little more clarity here re the the iPhone and recording. I do not have a landline in my office — thus, all my calls are made and taken on the iPhone. However, I have yet to find a recorder that works with the iPhone. I need to record interviews of an hour or more, and upload them to my Mac.

    I’d be happy to use Skype in the office, but I am not sure what kind of audio file Skype generates, whether it can be stored on the Mac, and how it might be shared — ie, sent to an editor as a fact-checking device.

    I appreciate any help I can get here — before I break down and put a landline into my office. Ugh.

    Cathryn

  16. [...] need to figure out a method — just using the Edirol isn’t going to do it.  This post has some great suggestions: read both the post itself and the comments about Skype.  In [...]

  17. The Olympus Mini Tele-Recording Device is brilliant. Not everyone can be sitting on a computer or a land line when they get a call from a potential interview. The mic and earphone allow you to have a phone conversation on a cell, land-line or computer.

    The only trick is knowing how to hold your phone so you don’t sound muffled in the conversation, but the voice on the phone is always crystal clear and beautiful.

  18. Another suggestion is the H2 by Zoom. You can set the mic in and hook it up directly to your Olympus, computer or set it next to your speaker phone. The mics are so amazing they create excellent audio for an inexpensive price.

  19. @Joshua Hudson – Thanks for the tips! But your comment about the Zoom H2 (by Samson, actually) confuses me. Connect it to the Olympus? Huh?

  20. Paul says:

    For recording my phone interviews I MiaRec Solo software. http://www.miarec.com/products/miarec-solo
    I use it with my Vonage. It works great. It is a little bit costly comparing to other programs, but I think it is worth it. It looks to me very professional and is really helpful in my work (no more problems with microphones and additional devices). installation took about two minutes. I hope this advice can help someone else.

  21. James says:

    I rely on recording phone calls for my work but I hate having to drag around recording equipment when I’m on the beat. The PhoneTap app on my iPhone lets me record calls on the go and I think it will replace my trusty Olympus recorder.

  22. Diana Landau says:

    I’d love updates on some of these tips. I’d like to ditch my cassette recorders and record from office phone directly onto my iMac, but it doesn’t seem possible. Already have a Radio Shack controller (old one). Also, does iPhone4 work well for on-the-road interviews, and is PhoneTap still the best app? Thinking of upgrading my mobile. Thanks!

Leave a Reply