Christina's LIS Rant
Thursday, December 06, 2007
  One pretty successful way to record telephone interviews
(whew. sorry to put that in there, but the first thing anyone says is, wow, you could get arrested for that in your state... anyway)

I'm inordinately proud of how I figured this out on my own with no guidance, a lot of research, some gumption with dealing with a good ole' boy at Radio Shack, and some trial and error. Hence, you get to read, and hopefully someday use this.

In my current research project, the second phase of data collection is qualitative interviews. Great, except for none of my participants are local, in fact, I had originally intended to talk to some folks overseas but that became way way too complicated (see disclaimer at top). So, the original way to do this was to use an old fashioned phone with a handset and then this suction cup thingy OR to put a tap in either the line from the phone to the handset or from the wall to the phone (like you used to put an old modem in... oh gosh, who will know that analogy?). There are also some very, very expensive machines to do this -- and those are important for call centers and the like where there's a volume.

My limitations:
1) All of these folks were long distance and I have no funding for this, it's out of my pocket
2) People are in a few different time zones and are really super busy, so I wanted to make sure that we did this *whenever* was convenient to them. This means that they could catch me at or around my office at school, at or around my house, or at or around work.
3) Skype is banned at work.
4) Work phone is VOIP fancy digitalness.

What I wanted to have:
1) free or very low cost phone calls
2) no limitation to where I was
3) double/dual recording - audiotape for security and computer for ease of transcription.

My resources:
1) a laptop
2) admin rights to my work computer (stop that evil laughing)
3) a cell phone with beaucoup extra minutes
4) I'm somewhat techie, very aggressive, and tenacious
5) a little bit of money

So after doing some research here's what I did:
1) got the Olympus TP7 (the very same that another blogger found before me, if only I had searched)
So it is monaural, and it goes in your ear, and then you hold the phone up to your ear and you talk. So you can use *any* phone! Also, it comes with some adapters: different sizes and monaural to stereo (the reason for this will be come clear). And some different ear thingies -- a person doing a review said this was if they get yucky, but no, it's actually that they are different sizes and while my MP3 earphones seriously hurt my ears, the small size thingy fits nicely. (who knew I had small ears?)
If you go to buy this at Radio Shack, it might not be with the other cables and such. It comes in a little blue and black box where everything else is in a bag stapled to a card on a hook.

2) right, so now I've got a monaural signal going one place, but I actually want two identical signals so I can record both places at once - my computer and my taperecorder. This is where the stereo adapter comes in. Note: the signal is only ever mono, all this does is split it. Note the one ring on the mono plug, and the two rings on the stereo. This basically splits the signal in to two identical ones. There will be some attenuation for each step of this connection, but I found it to not be enough to cause a problem as the pickup is pretty decent.
3) so now I needed what I though was simple: a splitter. But the only thing I could find right away was two females in to a male out - like for two people to listen to an mp3 player. If you look very, very carefully in Radio Shack, there is something that is supposed to be for planes (?!?). It is a stereo in, and two monaural out -- perfect. It was very hard to find, and I even drew the good ole boy a picture of what I wanted .. sigh. I wish I could put my hands on the part number for you but here's a picture:

So out of the phone, into the tp7, to the mono-stereo adapter, to the splitter, to the computer and the taperecorder:
4) On the computer I have Audacity. It is very important to test your incoming sound levels using *each* phone you will use. My dad helped (male with deep voice) and I also called our new local public radio station's news line (and promptly deleted each of these!).
5) I got the person on the phone at the set time, asked them if it was still a good time, confirmed permission to record, and then started the computer and the taperecorder.

6) When done, I popped the tabs out of the tape and carefully locked it away (as per protection of participants confidentiality). I saved the audacity project, then produced it as a wav. I imported it into Express Scribe and transcribed (more on that for another post maybe).

As for making the call:
I sometimes used my cell phone, I sometimes did end up using my work phone, and I was ready to use Skype at home, but didn't have the need to.

Another handy tip:
If you are speaking with a soft spoken (esp. female) type, then you can use the compressor function in Audacity which really does help.

Note: my local (Burtonsville) Radio Shack is very, very cool and helpful -- this was the one in College Park (go figure, they should have more women engineers and ham radio operators down there... maybe they just all avoid the store?). I had to do this in person, because I didn't have the language for what I needed so I couldn't search. How about that.

Update 1/27/08: I found the labeling for the splitter (1 female stereo to 2 male mono, 1/8") RadioShack Goldseries 42-2495 Aircraft Y-Adapter Cable.
Christina, Skype has add-ons that allow recording conversations on the computer. Then just import into Audacity for compression and normalization. You would need some Skype Out time to call folks without a Skype account. Check out HotRecorder for VOiP, Pamela or PowerGrammo for starters.
Right - but Skype is blocked at work and I knew that I would probably have to do some of these at work. It's not blocked at your work?
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This is my blog on library and information science. I'm into Sci/Tech libraries, special libraries, personal information management, sci/tech scholarly comms.... My name is Christina Pikas and I'm a librarian in a physics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering library. I'm also a doctoral student at Maryland. Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or CLIS. You may reach me via e-mail at cpikas {at} gmail {dot} com.

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Christina Kirk Pikas

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