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Kazakhstan Broadcast Facility in Balkhash
Provided by Jonathan Zane - KC2SHO
Smorgasbord / Kirt's Cogitations™ #339

RF Cafe University"Factoids," "Kirt's Cogitations," and "Tech Topics Smorgasbord" are all manifestations of my ranting on various subjects relevant (usually) to the overall RF Cafe theme. All may be accessed on these pages:

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RF Cafe visitor Jonathan Zane (KC2SHO) recently sent me a hyperlink to his collection of photos taken when he visited a broadcast facility in Balkhash, Kazakhstan. A sample of his extensive image cache is shown here. You can view the entire set that includes vintage electronic equipment, facilities, and city streets on his kc2sho.com website. You will see a huge stash of vacuum tube assemblies, large coaxial cables, operation and maintenance manuals, and spare parts. These kinds of treasure troves exist all over the world; it's a matter of finding them. Imagine what all that abandoned equipment and components would sell for on eBay!

Along with requesting permission to post a few of his photos, I invited him to provide some text to accompany them. Here is what he wrote - you will definitely like the anecdote at the end. Many thanks to Jonathan for this!

Jonathan E. Zane (KC2SHO) Comments:

Jonathan Zane (KC2SHO) at Kazakhstan Broadcast Facility in Balkhash - RF Cafe

Jonathan Zane (KC2SHO, in blue shirt) at Kazakhstan Broadcast Facility in Balkhash.

Kazakhstan Broadcast Facility equipment room in Balkhash - RF Cafe

Kazakhstan Broadcast Facility equipment room in Balkhash.

Vacuum tube equipment and manuals - RF Cafe

Vacuum tube equipment and manuals.

Racks full of vintage electronic equipment - RF Cafe

Racks full of vintage electronic equipment.

Broadcast tower at ground level - RF Cafe

Broadcast tower at ground level.

Bin of vacuum tubes - RF Cafe

Bin of vacuum tubes.

Box of vacuum tubes - RF Cafe

Box of vacuum tubes.

Assortment of vintage electronic equipment - RF Cafe

Assortment of vintage electronic equipment.

What might this vintage electronic equipment sell for on eBay? - RF Cafe

What might this vintage electronic equipment sell for on eBay?

Broadcast tower - RF Cafe

Broadcast tower.

First off, the full photo set is available here. You're welcome to download and use them as you wish. There are other photos of the surrounding town and people and a festival that was happening during our visit.

There's also a few photos of Almaty here.

In 2006 while working for DMT USA, a sub of DMT .p.A.,we received a request from a Kazakhstan transplant living in the USA to send a demo transmitter to Kazakhstan as part of their digital television transition. Giuseppe (my Italian counterpart) and I were sent out, after it was installed, to do a proof-of-performance and training for the station operators. After a flight from Milan to Almaty and a small payment under the table, to the customs officials (to get some beers after work of course), we were allowed into the country with the 4T2 DVB analyzer. We stayed for a night and part of a day in Almaty, and met our US point of contact, Samat, and 2 Kazakhs in the evening. We then proceeded by vehicle to Balhash (Sometimes written "Balkhash") during the night hours. We were told it's safer and easier to travel at night – I'm guessing mostly due to traffic jams and general mayhem often found with poorly kept roads. So through the night hours we drove, 5 of us crammed into a small SUV, over the bumpy and poorly maintained roads of the Kazakh steppe. We drove all night and although Samat slept soundly leaned up against his door, Giuseppe and I did not get much shut eye. Somewhere around half-way we stopped for a rest at a very small roadside village. There we met a few members of the local cat population and we saw the clearest night skies I had ever experienced.

We arrived in Balhash on that cold winter morning just after sun up. Our hosts insisted that we have some Vodka before heading to the transmitter site. We agreed to the Vodka, but just one, and had to work at them a bit to let us get rested and refreshed in our hotel rooms before proceeding to the site. They couldn't seem to fathom why we needed this. I recall Samat asking why we didn't sleep in the car.

My memories from the broadcast facilities are mostly of the general age of everything and the interesting old equipment all around the site. The site manager agreed to let me take photographs and the group seemed to be entertained by my interest in the gear. They offered me a reel-to-reel recorder (photographed) and although my collector hoarder mentality mulled over the ways in which to take them up on their gracious offer, I politely declined. There was no way I was going to be able travel with that monstrosity. And, who knows what kind of trouble I would have with customs. Instead I accepted a single very large vacuum tube which made it home safely inserted into a sock, wrapped with a t-shirt. It's an excellent conversation piece and I continue to display it with other parts of my collection.

We spent 2 days in Balhash where we walked the streets during a festival, roamed the town, ate some interesting local food, drank some Georgian wine, and visited a basement bar just near the hotel. I recall eating quite a bit of Sturgeon as it is a common local food direct from Lake Balhash (one of the largest lakes in the world).

At the end of our visit Giuseppe and I were given gifts by our hosts. When we adorned these souvenirs (photo), laughter ensued. I was clued in to the reason for the laughter by Samat, something about Giuseppe's hat and whip making him the dominant character in this story and mine the subordinate… You get the idea.

Shortly after accepting the gifts, saying goodbye to the crew (photo) and making our way out we met our driver and the 4 door sedan that was going to take 4 of us (thankfully not 5) back to Almaty. Only because no engineering story can end without some kind of fiasco, the car decided not to start. We pulled an oscilloscope down from the transmitter building and began troubleshooting. I found that there was no ground pulse signal going to coil, therefore no spark. After some discussion it was decided to make the return trip in the SUV. Shortly before midnight we got off the main road and started down a much less traveled road. When I asked Samat where we were going, he only responded, "whiskey and horse." A farmhouse of sorts came into view and we exited the car and went inside. There we drank whiskey and ate slivers of horse meat: think charcuterie. With all that sorted we once again proceeded through the cold crisp night air of the Kazakhstan high desert on roads that could shake even the best-fit fillings loose.

Closing thoughts:

On the flights and in the Almaty hotel it was interesting that we saw so many cowboy hats and cowboy boots. Kazakhstan is an oil producer and apparently many Texans are part of these operations.

I later found out that the trouble with the sedan was a failure with the "security chip" in the key. Remember the ones with the resistor inserted part way down the shaft of the key? I believe they ended up bypassing this troublesome security feature.

I still find it amazing that the tires and suspension on that SUV survived the entire trip. Some of the potholes we encountered would swallow the whole tire. Not a pleasant experience at speed, for us or the car.

I left the broadcast world mostly due to incompatible salary ranges while still asking for high levels of skill and work commitment. I found more reasonable accommodations at Los Alamos National Lab where I started as a RF technician at LANSCE, the proton accelerator, working on 3 megawatt 201 MHz diacrode pulse transmitters. I have since moved on to support equipment in the chemistry division, but I miss the allure of high power RF and RF systems in general.

It's nice to think that perhaps the experience on Kazakhstan steppe aided in my decision to move to the high desert of New Mexico where similar clear views of the night sky are a regular occurrence. Last night's meteor shower brought me set up a lawn chair in the driveway with a hot sleepy time tea and watch the show for about an hour.


Cheers and all the best,

Jonathan Zane – KC2SHO



Posted June 24, 2022

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