For audio interviews, it’s still ISDN

On average, I carry out six to eight audio interviews each month just for the FT Connected Business podcast (I say on average, because although we usually run three pieces per episode, that’s not a hard and fast rule, and there are some additional shows we run during the year too). Add in other projects, and that number can easily double.

The best option is always to meet the guest in the studio, but of course that is not always possible. Meeting face to face at the guest’s location can work, if the room is quiet enough, but it takes up a fair amount of time. That’s both time that I, and the interviewee, do not always have.

As a matter of policy, I don’t record broadcast interviews over the phone. The move towards low-cost conferencing services, and the way some businesses implement VoIP, has actually made the quality of phone calls worse. And that’s before you allow for international calls, and calls on mobiles.

We have had some good results using Skype, as well as some more specialised, although not necessarily costlier, IP telephony tools. As long as the equipment or software delivers “wideband” audio (also known as G.722) we can usually use it.

In radio, organisations such as the BBC are using specialist, and very high quality, audio over IP tools such as Comrex. We are testing a software-only IP voice codec, Luci Live, which the BBC also uses. But we are finding that more organisations are coming back to the basic radio interview standby: ISDN.

ISDN is not a new technology, and in some cases it is becoming difficult to order new lines from BT. But many businesses still have ISDN2 lines, and there are telcos that will install it. Most of all, ISDN remains a recognised standard, and producers are much more likely to accept a feed or contribution “in quality” if it is over ISDN, or ISDN is available as a backup. Our own tests suggest that whilst Skype et al can be good, ISDN is just more solid, for now at least. And the sound, from a proper ISDN link, rather than a Mac or PC headset, sounds that bit richer.

ISDN equipment is not cheap, and it needs some expert input, ideally, to install and set it up. We can put PR officers in touch with firms that can do that, such as Radio Studio Services, at a reasonable cost. And we even have our own test/demo/backup portable ISDN contributor’s unit, which we can lend out if you want to test a link before investing.

But if you want your clients to make the most of both broadcast opportunities and the growing range of outlets running online audio clips, ISDN’s days are by no means numbered.


About stephenpritchard
Freelance journalist specialising in business and technology, based in London (UK).

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