COLORADO CITY — You might never see a better demonstration of Moore’s Law than in the back room at the radio station.
The Abilene Reporter-News reports Moore’s Law is the educated guess put forward by engineers that states that every two years, twice as many transistors can be squeezed onto a computer chip. Broadly put, it’s why electronic devices become more powerful each year yet stay the same size, or perform the same but are now only half as big as last year’s model.
Of course, computer chips were nearly 20 years in the future when the RCA BTA-1L radio transmitter was built. The machine broadcast 500 watts across Mitchell County on the AM band and was about four years old when KVMC was built in 1950.
Linda Baum recently offered a breakdown of the cost to build the station, typed on original KVMC letterhead and dated May 16, 1950.
“On this date, 90 percent of the station was built for $11,190 and16 cents,” she said. “And the land, they paid $1,000 for 4.4 acres out here.”
Linda is the widow of Jim Baum, the longtime owner of KVMC/KAUM and the former mayor of Colorado City. He died Dec. 16 after a short illness at 82.
The station would overlook the city from the hill on East Second Street if the mesquites didn’t crowd the view. Still, it’s a quiet spot marked by an oversized microphone along the edge of the road, an art installation that also has been known as an international selfie destination.
You can mark a particular era of radio, and American culture, depending on where you stand and what you are facing inside the station. Staring at the dusty turntables and rack of tape cartridges, or “carts”, points squarely to the late 1970s and 80s before digital storage took the commercial jingles stored in those carts and crammed them onto a hard drive.
The AM transmitter obviously harkens back even further. The size of two large bookshelves, its Art Deco styling speaks of an era when radio was the height of technology and the purview of Buck Rogers.
As impressive as they are, the devices aren’t useful anymore. But that may change in the near future.
“One of Jim’s wishes was to leave a few things to the Heart of West Texas Museum,” Linda said, adding how much of a history fan her husband was and his love for the museum.
“I’m excited to be able to do this and Jim would be thrilled,” she said.
Linda said the plan so far is to donate the transmitter and the disc jockey station with its turntable and carts, along with a few other things. The intent is to recreate a KVMC/KAUM station display at the city’s museum.
As difficult as losing her spouse was, it was the radio station going that kept her going.
“I thought was a blessing at first because it kept my mind occupied,” she said. “But sometimes it seems like the longer it goes, the harder it’s become.”
While the station was always Jim’s passion, it’s not the same for Linda. Jim Baum and his radio station were synonymously known as the “Voice of Mitchell County” and you can still hear him in station IDs and some advertisements.
But being the voice isn’t limited to just one man, it can be anyone so long as they have the same passion, the same commitment. That’s why Linda has put the station up for sale.
“I would like to sell it as soon as I can,” she said. “It’s just not what I want to do.”
There have been some offers, but nothing solid so far. In the meantime, a young man named London Lynch helps out with the news programming while learning the ropes of broadcast journalism. And there’s still plenty of boxes to go through, even nine months after Jim’s passing.
“Oh, he never threw anything away,” Linda said, chuckling. If Jim got a card or note from someone, he’d read it and then put back in its envelope and stash it somewhere.”
In this business, sometimes you wonder if anyone is paying attention. So if somebody sends you a note, you squirrel it away because that’s a better prize than anything Joseph Pulitzer ever dreamed up.
“So far, I’ve found a dollar bill,” Linda said. “Somebody sent him a card for his birthday and wrote, ‘Take this and go to the dollar store.’”
The FM designator of KAUM was added in 1980, the same year Jim bought the radio station. He and Linda were married in 1992, Jim’s first wife having passed.
KVMC/KAUM plays old country hits, a genre that hooked Linda early on.
“I’ve always loved music,” she said. “My parents didn’t know I somehow signed up for a record club when I was 6 years old.”
Marty Robbins, John Horton, Jimmy Dean; all her favorites began to conveniently show up on her doorstep.
“They sent my parents a bill on that, and my dad wouldn’t pay it because I was just a kid,” she recalled. “He said I was too young to be doing that.
“We always had music on somewhere, I guess that’s why I liked it.”