GENEALOGY – TAPESPONDING

Before the days of ‘instant news’, ‘in-your-face’ data and the Internet, things happened at a more leisurely pace. Methods of keeping in touch with loved ones, even those who lived only a relatively short distance away in the next town, would include either a telephone call (if you had one), or more likely a card or handwritten letter to be sent by post. It was a lovely surprise when you heard the letter be pushed through the letter-box by the postman, and then even more so when you recognized the handwriting on the envelope or opened the letter to read the content. In those days people would take time out and sit quietly and take in all the latest news – absorbing all the details… who was engaged to who, such-and-such now had a baby girl, our someone-or-other had recently started a new job. This information would immediately transport the reader into the sender’s world, and in an instant they were once again reminded that they had not been forgotten and that their friends or family were thinking about them.

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Reel of quarter-inch tape sent from the USA to our family over in Toxteth. The date on it is ‘Christmas 1962’.

But of course, things would eventually move on from this seemingly ancient form of communication.

The onset of technology brought about new possibilities, and the advent of the home tape-recorder becoming available worldwide ultimately brought with it a new phrase to the English language – everybody began to tapespond.

Tapesponding was simply a method of using the new home tape machines to communicate with your friends and family, as well as to continue to use the written word. Reel-to-reel tape was becoming more widely available and cheaper, so it was perhaps natural that someone should develop the idea of recording messages on it and then sending the tapes themselves in an envelope through the post. As well as recording messages themselves using the standard microphones which were provided with the machines, the sender might also record their favourite songs from either the radio or from record, and compile their own ‘playlist’ to let their friends or family hear. Each manufacturer had adopted the industry standard of using quarter-inch recording tape; also building the machines so that they could record and play at different tape speeds (19, 9.5, 4.8 cm’s per second), therefore there was little chance that the tape would not be compatible with another machine until stereo 4-track machines started to be introduced later and started to complicate things. Another big advantage of this method was that the tapes themselves could be recorded over and re-used, so the recipient could record their own message and send it back!

Later on we all did exactly the same thing but using cassette tapes instead of recording tape on open reels. This made it easier as the cassettes were more easily played and were generally more robust than the quarter inch tape reels which went before.

The audio link below contains a clip of Nora and Pat Caputo of New York State, USA. They were related to a friend of my aunt who lived locally in Liverpool, and she visited them while over in the US whilst Nora visited us at my grandma’s house when she came to holiday over here.

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From left – my Grandad Jack Welsh, my brother Gary, Nora Caputo, myself, Nora’s cousin Kitty – front room 25 Hughson Street, Liverpool 8.

In 1962 our family received a tape from them containing music and messages spoken by them both. The spine of the box reads ‘Christmas greetings from U.S.A. 1962’ written in pencil, and on the back ‘A Christmas Message from Nora + Pat In America’. Underneath this, written in blue biro ‘To Betty + Mr + Mrs Welch, Charles, Joan + Boys’.

In between songs contained on the tape, Nora and Pat simply spoke about everyday events from their daily lives in the U.S., and I can vaguely recall playing on the floor in the front room while our family gathered around my Dad’s tape machine as he played the tape back in Toxteth.

My Dad recorded a short message from each of our family on a similar tape to send back to America. It involved my Gran and Grandad speaking; my Mum, Dad and Aunt; and also myself and my brother Gary… just six and three years old respectively. How I wish that tape still existed and I had a copy of it… at one time it would have been relatively ordinary and mundane, but now it would be priceless to someone like myself.

In reality, I count myself lucky that I have even this one.

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2 thoughts on “GENEALOGY – TAPESPONDING

  1. I never knew what this was called, but I used to send cassettes to my parents 30 years ago, when my children were small. Recently I found one, part of which had been recorded over, but it was wonderful to hear my children’s voices from all that time ago. Obviously now I have digitised it to keep for posterity. Yours sounds like a real gem!

    • Thanks Chris. We used to take this for granted, but audio tape such as this has only a limited lifespan. Even cassette tape will degrade – which is what I used originally to start archiving some of the stuff I had on open reels. All of these I have now in proper storage boxes and kept in a cool dry cupboard. Now all I need is the time to go through and archive them all to digital. Thanks for your interest – Graham.

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