LINGUIST List 13.970

Mon Apr 8 2002

Sum: Recording Telephone Interviews

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. Suzanne K. Hilgendorf, recording telephone interviews

Message 1: recording telephone interviews

Date: Sun, 7 Apr 2002 20:22:16 +0200
From: Suzanne K. Hilgendorf <>
Subject: recording telephone interviews

This is a summary to my query earlier this week 
( about what means are 
available for taping telephone interviews/conversations. The 
reaction was immediate, and I received numerous responses (from 
Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Iran, and the 
USA), all with helpful suggestions. As an added benefit, I also 
heard from people interested in my research project or who are 
working on a similar subject, which made this exchange all the more 
worthwhile. LINGUIST is a remarkable resource!

First I would like to acknowledge and thank those who replied to my query:

Michael Erard - <>
Ian MacKay -
Cory R C Sheedy -
Maryam Bakht-Rofheart -
Nancy Frishberg - <>
Lynn Santelmann -
Stephen Miller - <>
David Smith - <>
Will Lamb -
Ingrid Piller -
Julian Bradfield -
Charley Rowe -
Andrea Golato -
Jeff Steele -
edward garrett -
John Morrish -
Reza Yazdankhah -

Recommendations/suggestions ranged from simple solutions (using an 
answering machine that still uses regular cassette tapes) to 
sophisticated technological approaches (using the pc, mini-disks, 
etc.) and even visiting detective/spy shop web sites (the Spy Shop in 
London Typing "telefonrekorder" at for the ultimate in surveillance equipment 
(if ethically somewhat questionable). Accordingly, the expense 
involved ranges from US $10.00 to thousands of dollars, depending 
on your needs in terms of sound quality and how you would like to 
be able to store/work with the data.

In nearly all cases, one thing to remember is the possible need for a 
phone jack adapter, since most devices are designed for use in 
particular countries. For the USA, Andrea Golato pointed out "these 
adapters can be purchased online. I believe radio shack sells them, 
otherwise Best Buy does. (Best buy only sells them in as a whole 
adapter kit with adapters for around the world - those cost US $60)." 
It may also be possible to buy them individually through an online 
seller. Ian McKay suggested checking stores that cater to business 
travellers, since they are most likely to be looking for such 

Here are the recommendations:

respondents (6) use a Marantz portable cassette recorder with a 
built-in phone jack, which by all accounts provides a top-quality 
recording. Judging from the replies, I assume this is the standard 
in the profession. It is not cheap, with prices ranging from US $300 
to more than $1000 for the digital recorder. The manufacturer's web 
site is an excellent source for information: By 
e-mailing the company I also found out where they can be purchased in 

expensive alternatives are various devices (ca. US $20 - $60) that 
can be hooked to the phone line.

- For those in the United States, many people suggested a visit to 
Radio Shack, an electronics store that carries nearly every gadget 
imaginable. Andrea Golato has used the "Recorder Control" (US 
$19.99) ( her 
research with good results: "The quality of the recordings is really 
good. While the person's voice who has the recorder (i.e. you) is 
louder, you can still hear the other person absolutely clearly. I 
use this stuff ALL the time." Unfortunately, Radio Shack does not 
take international orders. In Britain, Julian Bradfield pointed out 
that similar "devices are widely sold in mail-order gadget catalogues 
in the U.K."

- John Morrish, who is a journalist, recommended: "a telephone 
adapter that plugs into your tape recorder. Olympus makes one: it's 
effectively a small microphone that sits just inside your ear. You 
place the telephone against your ear and the microphone records both 
sides of the conversation. They cost about 25UK here in Britain. You 
will need a cassette recorder with a microphone socket."

- From Iran, Reza Yazdankhah does the following: "I have a socket 
which it could be plugs between phone line and phone set then you 
could receive the conversation in a FM band radio stereo which you 
could make it recorded."

- Others suggested using a simple telephone answering machine that 
uses regular or mini cassette tapes. My experience has been that, at 
least in the US and from what I can tell in Germany, these are 
increasingly difficult to find. It appears more and more machines 
are digitized with no means for transferring the data in order to 
keep a permanent record, and they only record for a limited amount of 
time (sometimes as short as just a few minutes).


Ian MacKay, who works in the Phonetics Laboratory at the University 
of Ottawa provided the most detailed reply:

"Minidisk recorders - I do not know if more modern audio recording 
devices such as minidisk machines can found that have a phone jack 
input. Minidisk recorders (often using MP3 compression) give 
excellent audio performance and a few extra minidisks are a lot 
easier to install than a replacement harddrive for your laptop.

Direct to computer harddrive - If you're going to record direct to a 
computer hard drive and you're using a PC, CoolEdit Pro from 
Syntrillium software will permit recording plus a whole lot more. 
It's shareware, can be found and purchased on the web. If you're 
using a Macintosh, then a simple recorder such as SoundRecorder 
(which can be found at is all you need to record 
direct to the harddrive and it's free.

Now, that still leaves you with the problem of a box that will permit 
connecting a phone cord to a mini phono jack to go into the sound 
input port on your computer. I assume that whichever platform you're 
using, you'll be using a laptop. Generally, a mini phono jack is the 
input port for "line-in" sound. I'm sure that at some specialty 
electronic store you can find such a converter cable.
IF the North American phone plug IS what you need, don't forget, of 
course, to obtain a couple of splitters at Radio Shack. A splitter is 
what you need to plug two phones into a single socket: you'll need to 
have the phone plugged in, as well as having a length of phone cable 
going to the tape recorder or computer. Be sure to get the right 
"sex" of splitter so that you can do the appropriate plugging in.


Edward Garrett told of a bad experience with one type of recorder: 
"we were planning to record telephone conversations last summer in 
tibet. we bought a gentner microtel, which was a disaster. we could 
barely hear anything but interference. it's hard to imagine that 
they could market such a product, so perhaps it was defective or 

John Moorish had another warning: "Don't be tempted by an external 
telephone "bug". Those are the things with a rubber sucker that you 
attach to the telephone box or handset. They don't really work with 
modern phones, which have a very weak magnetic field. (But they are 
much cheaper.)

And Nancy Frishberg related some legal concerns: "Of at least as much 
concern to me ... is that you make sure you know what the German law 
allows. Telephones like postal services are heavily regulated 
government agencies in European countries and the rules differ from 
one place to the next and often quite a bit from practice or 
regulation (in the US)."

- ---------------------------------

I hope this information is helpful to others, so they will not find 
themselves in "the field" without the equipment they need. As for 
me, I've opted for one of the inexpensive solutions and am having a 
friend mail me the Radio Shack device from the US, since I've been 
unable to find something similar in Germany and don't want to spend 
more time looking.

Dr. Suzanne K. Hilgendorf
Asst. Professor
Language Program Coordinator &
Graduate Advisor, M.A. in Language Learning (MALL) 
Dept. of German & Slavic Studies
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48202
office: ++1-313-577-3152	fax: ++1-313-577-3266
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