Treasures on Tape: A 'Reel' Discovery In The 'Ephemeral' Podcast

Reel retro tape recorder

Ephemeral is a podcast that shines a light on leftover bits of history, the odds and ends we leave behind that offer insightful little snapshots into the overall mood and attitude of an era. This episode, “Reputation,” focuses on reel-to-reel tape collector Bob Purse, who isn’t interested in top 40 hits or classical music; he likes home recordings, scratched-out inscriptions, and aural odds and ends that offer a glimpse into history and culture that no weighty academic tome ever could. "This fascinates me on so many levels, it's hard to explain," he said. "Sometimes I listen to these tracks and wonder, 'Who are these people? Do they remember making these tapes and songs? Do they have any suspicion that their voices are out there being heard by strangers?'"


Bob finds these fascinating bits and pieces from the '50s and '60s by sifting through thrift stores, flea markets, and on eBay, and shares his discoveries on his blog, Inches Per Second. "If something was particularly old and had no writing on it, I would snap that up," Bob said. "If something had someone's personal writing on it that indicated there might be family recordings on it, I would always get that. If something indicated that it had some sort of top 40, or talk radio, or old-time radio on it from the Golden Age, I would get that. If something just looked intriguing because of something unusual about it I might get that."

In 1995, one of the things that caught his eye was an acetate recording with nothing written on it. It could be anything, as Bob pointed out: "You find people's recordings off the radio. You find people talking around the house. You hear people playing music for it." This one turned out to be an amateur recording of a peppy song, a track Bob called "Reputation." He liked it, playing it several times for his own enjoyment, but he had no way of finding out who had recorded it. Years later, he found a reel-to-reel tape marked "Reputation," and had to find out if it was the same song. It was, and Bob had finally discovered the singer: Merigail Moreland. He shared his findings on his blog, as usual, then something amazing happened: a relative of the singer got in touch with Bob and was able to share Merigail’s life story and more of her recordings that the family had saved.

Listen to this incredible story unfold, learn all about how home recording became a thing (spoiler alert: Nazis are involved), and hear snippets of the songs Bob found, including "Reputation," "Head Cheese," and "The Tallest Rock," in this episode of Ephemeral.

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