Radio Free Asia: A Skype Facilitated Broadcasting Service

Skype has become a vital tool for not only keeping their reporters in touch but also for delivering high voice quality reports and more effective technical support.

Broadcasting in nine languages, via short wave radio (primarily), Internet and satellite feeds, to several southeast Asian countries where open sources of news and information are lacking, Radio Free Asia competes with Deutsche Welle and BBC for southeast Asian ears; from their website:

RFA is a private, nonprofit corporation that broadcasts news and information in nine native Asian languages to listeners who do not have access to full and free news media. The purpose of RFA is to provide a forum for a variety of opinions and voices from within these Asian countries.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Radio Free Asia’s Chief Technical Office, David Baden, to learn more about how RFA is dealing with their voice communications requirements.

RFA has recently incorporated Skype into their operation, largely for voice conversations. Initially they had been using Net2Phone for low cost voice communications but with ownership changes and other happenings at Net2Phone they had to find a new service. Interestingly enough the original trigger for using Skype was its ability to manage billing and accounting related to a VoIP service. They had found many of their ~100 reporters and stringers migrating to Skype on a personal basis; the Skype Business Control Panel provided a path to consolidate and manage all their voice communications amongst their many offices in southeast Asia, including an office in Hong Kong that is a legacy from the British colonial period.

Their primary goal for using Skype was initially to reduce voice communications costs amongst their own offices; however, this has expanded to call recording for interviews. For IM they had been using Jabber due to its interoperability amongst various IM platforms and did not change when introducing Skype. As their users get more experience with Skype and its features, they are expanding their use to include features such as conference calling and video calling.

We then moved into discussing the realm of call recording, With the invocation of Skype, reporters naturally started asking how they could record their interviews. In their research of recording options they had requirements such as the ability to easily record both sides of an interview conversation and to maintain the original conversation’s voice quality. First they found that Skype was the only voice service with the range of evolved “add-ons” required to provide a complete recording capability; then they had their technicians determine which applications to evaluate. Working with some of their field staff and producers, they elected to go ahead with Pamela (and their new version 4.0) for the following reasons:

  • ability to record into WAV files (to maintain the original conversation’s quality)
  • ease-of-use (they are working with reporter who require simplicity of operation)
  • reliability and sound quality

WAV is important for use of interview segments as sound bytes. When doing a report they don’t want to lose voice fidelity (through recording to MP3 and back to WAV) as they edit sound bytes into a report that is done as a WAV file.

Ease-of-use includes the auto-start and auto-stop of recording as well as easily locating the resulting file on the reporter’s local PC. Once Pamela has been configured there’s not a lot of “real time” thinking required to save, name and recall a file. As a side benefit these logistics also contributes to avoiding accidental loss of an interview.

They are intending to use the Mega Emotion Sounds Player feature to incorporate sound bytes into their reports, viewing it as a tool for a live report. Repeatedly David mentioned the importance of the overall voice quality of Skype, providing a much better quality than standard phone lines. Overall he stated, “It beats the ‘old days’ where a reporter just holds a cassette recorder to the phone” to introduce a sound byte into a live report. They are looking forward to seeing what other features within Pamela they can use, such as voice mail, in the course of their normal operational processes.

Some other comments David had about Skype use:

  • In addition to enhancing the services available to reporters, they are also using Skype for technical support calls, providing support out of Washington to their staff worldwide. And because the calls are either free or very low cost, they find their tech support is more effective since the people involved do not feel they are under a time constraint. For instance, they can wait while a user tries out a suggested fix rather than arranging a call-back.
  • Again, as a result of no time constraint, reporters can do more “in-depth” interviews.
  • Skype overcomes phone line limitations into various countries, independent of carrier relationships between various countries’ telecom service providers. No longer are they limited to whatever relationships and bandwidth AT&T, MCI and others have for services into, say, Hong Kong, Viet Nam or South Korea. They can actually count much more on making a call connection when using Skype.
  • While, along with Skype Journal, access to their website is blocked1 in countries such as China, Skype’s encrypted peer-to-peer technology provides a shield against blocking of Skype calls into some of the countries they target their broadcasts to. In fact, he views China as having all the characteristics of an enterprise’s intranet, including the ability to manage website and other traffic. But Skype knows something about traversing firewalls.

Lower calling costs, higher quality interviews and reporting, ease-of-use and more effective internal communications and support would sum up RFA’s experience with Skype.

1 Appears that the Great Firewall of China test site is down until Feb. 1, 2008.

Tags: Skype, Radio Free Asia, Pamela, Skype call recording, Skype voice quality, Skype Business Control Panel

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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