Dipoles have the 2 wires going to each leg of the antenna completing the circuit.

Big AM towers use the second wire as a ground plane

But how to handheld rigs transmit and recieve with just one wire sticking in the air?

  • $\begingroup$ Just the right topic. 38 years later, I 'm back in the shack. Or better yet, I'm walking home. KABH 8895, from 1976. Wow. Today's project: a flat-side dipole or other antenna for these 2-watt CB hand helds. Realistic? Hope so. TRC-218. EBay win because they...work! A 102" wire direct out of the Motorola plug roughly triples my ears. But both WT's work better when only the hot , center, wire is connected. Soon as the outer ring touches ground, well, friend, no benefit. Yes, I got the periscope down. These WT's have the brushed metal side panels. When I hold them, yup, I become the dipole. When $\endgroup$ – user1363 Jul 23 '14 at 21:13

Your body acts as the ground when using a handheld radio. By holding the radio, you are capacitively coupled to the radio and make the other leg of the antenna. This is one of the reasons to hold the radio in your hand away from your body while using it, rather than using it while attached to a belt clip. (The other reasons pertain to RF safety.)

Of course, you aren't a very good ground system, so you can improve the efficiency of a handheld's antenna by attaching a counterpoise to the radio to be a better ground. There is a product called a "rat tail" designed for this purpose, but you can easily homebrew your own by attaching any handy piece of wire about a quarter wavelength long to the radio's case.

As noted in a comment: further details about adding your own ground/counterpoise to an HT.

  • $\begingroup$ I just wanted to add a comment to this article which explains in detail how to do this and some of the theory behind it. $\endgroup$ – Dan Nov 1 '13 at 3:08
  • $\begingroup$ But my radio can still receive when it is across from the room when I switch on VOX and talk into it when I am not even touching it, the radio still works fine $\endgroup$ – Skyler 440 Nov 1 '13 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ Most HTs have an aluminum chassis inside the plastic that works as a (poor) ground plane when it's sitting on the shelf and one plate of the capacitor when you are holding it. Given that you are usually using this on 2m or 70cm locally, often with a repeater, you don't need much of an antenna. $\endgroup$ – WPrecht Nov 1 '13 at 13:39
  • $\begingroup$ The lack of an RF ground/counterpoise isn't going to prevent the antenna from working altogether. It will improve the functionality fairly dramatically, though, and it will affect the resonant point of the antenna, which in turn can affect the SWR on your frequencies of interest. I used to use a vertical antenna on HF with no ground radials, and it wasn't great, but it worked well enough for the situation. $\endgroup$ – James NF8I Nov 1 '13 at 14:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Skyler440 Place a pizza pan or some al foil under your radio while listening. You may be surprised by the improvement with distant repeaters. $\endgroup$ – Paul Nov 2 '13 at 2:30

actually ground is relative. Antenna's don't need an earth ground to work, but they need a relative ground point which is usually the base of the antenna.

Also the reason you want to place an antenna away is for transmission purposes. But using vhf at low power there is no chance of RF burns. When looking at antenna lobe designs it's best to place a high powered antenna so that the lobe is not angled toward animals because RF can damage animal tissue.

  • $\begingroup$ "using vhf at low power there is no chance of RF burns" I wouldn't be quite so sure. I distinctly remembering getting a tickle out of a homebrew J-pole at 5 W 145 MHz FM. Sure, not exactly a "RF burn", but still not particularly pleasant. Also, the operating power and antennas used in amateur radio are almost never enough to actually cause tissue damage from simply being in the main lobe. (The only major exception I can think of is being in the main lobe from a high-gain microwave transmitting antenna, and that's rare.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jan 5 '16 at 15:30

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