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Teaching Online Journalism

Recording phone interviews: A solution that works

Our graduate student E. K. Sommer recently asked for advice on how to record phone interviews, so I pointed her toward an old (but still very popular) post on this blog: Recording phone calls: For reporters.

Sommer, however, found a better solution, and she agreed that I could share it here.

She tried about four different approaches; none worked very well or, if it did work, it was “enormously complicated.” She added: “There is a lot of DSL interference in trying to tape directly through the phone jack.” That was interesting for me, as I have not recorded a phone interview for quite some time.

NOTE: “Recording conversations by phone without the explicit permission of all whose voices are being recorded is a criminal offense in some jurisdictions. It is best to ask for permission at the top of the conversation and make sure the assent is recorded, too.” — Jim Franklin (see below in comments)

Here is the solution Sommer recommends:

  1. Sign up for Skype unlimited national phone calling ($2.99/month).
  2. Buy and download Pamela for Skype Professional ($32.41).
  3. Buy and use a Logitech USB headset (H390 — about $27 on Amazon.com).

“If you try to use your speakers and a regular Skype microphone/camera, the interviewee gets terrible echo and feedback,” Sommer wrote.

Using the recommended setup, “the sound quality is fantastic; the recording begins automatically if you wish, and when you are done, you have an MP3 ready to transcribe,” she concluded.

Do you have a better way to record and save phone interviews with high audio quality? Leave a comment!


Categories: audio, reporting


12 Comments

  1. Jerry Zurek says:

    On a Mac, use Skype and ecamm’s Call Recorder.

  2. jim says:

    Pamela for Skype is only for Windows 3.2 or higher. Does not work on Mac or Linux. Mac users may want to look into Audio Hijack Pro instead of Pamela.

  3. Bill Lascher says:

    For more than a year I’ve successfully used HD Call Recorder on a PC to record interviews. It says it’s free but there are nags if you don’t buy a license. They don’t affect functionality, though. Still, I happily paid the $11 for the license, which I thought was well worth it (and less than Pamela). Recordings are great quality. you can record both sides of a convo or just one, which is useful when doing interviews for the radio. You can also have it record automatically or press record yourself once you’ve received consent for the recording. The audio quality is high and I’ve used audio from such recordings for at least two stories aired on public radio, which I think says something about the quality. I personally need a better headset, though.

    What I’d love to know is a way to record interviews made using Skype on my iPhone.

  4. Thanks, everyone. I will ask around and see if anyone has good suggestions for recording calls with an iPhone.

  5. Oh, this just in (HT to Jerry Zurek):

    SkyRecorder, for recording Skype calls on iPhone/iPad

    From the article (linked above): “After testing a couple of options (including QuickVoice), I found SkyRecorder by far the best app for the job.”

  6. Tia says:

    Interesting. I’ve just been chatting on speakerphone with my digital recording device next to me and my phone. That’s all I do.

  7. I’ve always used Audio Hijack for recording audio from my Mac laptop, e.g.: Skype, other VOIP apps, etc.

    http://rogueamoeba.com/audiohijackpro/

    The sound quality and flexibility are second to none.

    For video calls, I use ScreenFlow: http://www.telestream.net/screen-flow/overview.htm

    It records my video and the Skype video window.

    The big advantage of these options over ecamm’s Call Recorder is that they work with other applications, i.e., Google Video, iChat, other SIP/VOIP clients, etc. They’re not limited to just Skype.

    For recording on my iPhone, I do as the other commenter suggested and use the speaker to output the audio, which I then record using an audio recorder or my laptop and audio hijack.

    The other option, obviously, is to simply use a conference line/bridge and record the call audio there (it’s a typical feature of most conference call systems).

    Hope that helps a bit,

    Phillip.

  8. Thanks, Phillip, that’s very helpful.

    If you’re only recording to write a text story, using the iPhone speaker is okay. But if you are recording for radio or other audio (you want to distribute the audio), the quality will be quite poor if it is recorded from any phone speaker.

    I wonder if there is a direct recording option for phone interviews done via the iPhone or Android? These phones have many nice audio recording apps, but I think they don’t work with a caller on the line — they are meant for use with the phone pointed at a person like a microphone.

  9. Jim Franklin says:

    Students should be cautioned that recording conversation by phone without the explicit permission of all whose voices are being recorded is a criminal offense in some jurisdictions. It is best to ask for permission at the top of the conversation and make sure the assent is recorded, too. In Massachusetts, where I work, this is potentially a felony offense.

  10. Good point, Jim. I was remiss not to mention it. I have updated the post above to include this warning.

  11. Susannah Elliott says:

    For years, I’ve used a phone attachment for my little Olympus recorder. It’s only $15 or so. One end plugs into the microphone jack of the recorder, and the other end is an earpiece that you put in the same ear you hold the phone to. The tiny microphone earpiece records both sides of the conversation. I’m always surprised that more journalists don’t use this, since it can be used for any type of phone conversation. It’s never failed me!

    Here’s the attachment I use: http://www.amazon.com/Olympus-TP-7-Telephone-pick-up/dp/B000GU88CQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335207414&sr=8-1

  12. Justine Evesson says:

    I also use the earpiece mic – but have found for long conversations there are pitfalls. I can last half an hour before my ear gets pretty sore. You need to ensure that all parties have good quality phones. Without them you can mishear responses (because you have something stuck in the ear you are listening with) – or the quality is too low to easily transcribe. Also, if you move at all (which is hard to avoid in long interviews) the sensitive mic picks up a lot of extraneous noise and overwhelms the voice on the other end of the phone. Maybe its OK for short bursts – but I’d get another set up for long interviews.

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