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, in blue shirt) at Kazakhstan Broadcast Facility in Balkhash.
Kazakhstan Broadcast Facility equipment room in Balkhash.
Vacuum tube equipment and manuals.
Racks full of vintage electronic equipment.
Broadcast tower at ground level.
Bin of vacuum tubes.
Box of vacuum tubes.
Assortment of vintage electronic equipment.
What might this vintage electronic equipment sell for on eBay?
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
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
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.
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