LISTEN: Kansas City Man Finds Family's Long-Lost Christmas Tape
Editor's note: Since this story first aired on Jan. 2, 2015, KCUR has re-aired it as a holiday tradition.
About a decade ago, Kansas City musician Billy Smith was combing thrift stores for records when he stumbled upon quite a find for an experimental sound guy: an old-school Magnavox, reel-to-reel tape recorder with a pile of tapes for less than $5.
He brought it home, dusted it off, cleaned the tape heads and popped in some new batteries. He was about to hit record to start messing around with his new toy when curiosity took hold.
Before hitting record, he decided to check out what was on the tape inside the machine.
Joyful voices coming from the tape stopped him in his tracks.
It quickly became clear that this was a recording of a family celebrating Christmas. Someone on the tape wished everyone a merry Christmas of 1968. The contraption is obviously new, and the family is having a lot of fun testing it out.
The main character on the tape is a guy who goes by Uncle Peter. He invites different people to the microphone to talk and sing songs. He records musical selections of the era from the radio and the record player, interrupting occasionally to shout back at the vocalists. He also sings a little himself, in a beautiful baritone voice.
As the evening progresses, with kids heading off to bed and Uncle Peter getting a bit tipsy, the recording captures more reflective moments -- thoughts about family, wealth, and the passage of time.
Smith decided not to record over the tape.
Instead, he made it his own Christmas tradition to bust out the old Magnavox and travel down memory lane with a family he'd never met. He'd play the tape in the background while wrapping presents, to get in the mood for his own family gatherings.
Sometimes friends would come over and hear the tape and they'd all say the same thing: "This is amazing, you have to find this family."
But when he typed the name he was hearing as he heard it — A-L-P-O — into a search engine, he kept hitting dead ends. Eventually, Smith gave up all thoughts of reconnecting the tape with its rightful owners.
This year, he digitized the tape. He put the digital version up on SoundCloud and linked to it on his Facebook page. While he was online posting the audio, he was inspired to give contacting the family "another college try."
Facebook's search engine has an autofill feature, so when he entered the letters A-L-P-O, Facebook completed the name by automatically adding U-G-H. As soon as he began using the correct spelling of the family's last name, Alpough, all the people on the tape starting appearing, one by one.
When Sonya Alpough heard through her cousin Michael that this guy in Kansas City had found their old Christmas tape, she was just arriving in Florida, where her parents — Uncle Peter and his wife, Susie — now live.
"What's really crazy is he gave it to us at Christmas," Alpough says, "and that tape that my dad made was at Christmas, so... you know what I mean?"
On the drive from Missouri, she had just been telling her kids about the tapes her dad used to make, explaining that he'd lost them and that she wished they could hear them.
Now, they can.
And so can you.
Gina Kaufmann is the host of KCUR's Central Standard. You can reach her on Twitter, @GinaKCUR.