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Wavelengths, Frequencies, And Antennas

Each radio signal has a characteristic wavelength just as is the case for a sound wave. The higher the frequency of the signal, the shorter will be the wavelength. Antennas for low-frequency radio signals are long. Antennas for higher frequencies are shorter, to match the length of the waves they will send or receive.

It is a characteristic of all waves, not just radio signals, that there is greater interaction between waves and objects when the length of the wave is comparable to the object's size. Just as only selected sound wavelengths fit easily into the air column inside a bugle, only chosen frequencies will be accepted by a given antenna length. Antennas, particularly transmitting antennas, function poorly unless they have a size that matches the wavelength of the signal presented to them. The radio signal must be able to fit on the antenna as a standing wave. This condition of compatibility is called resonance. If a transmitter is to be able to "feed" energy into an antenna, the antenna must be resonant or it will not "take power" from the transmitter. A receiver antenna is less critical, since inefficiency can be compensated by signal amplification in the receiver, but there is improvement in reception when receiving antennas are tuned to resonance.

If an antenna's physical length is inappropriate, capacitors or inductors may be used to make it appear electrically shorter or longer to achieve resonance.

Near 100 MHz, near the center of the FM broadcast band in most of the world, signals have a wavelength of approximately three meters. At 1 MHz, near the center of the U.S. AM broadcast band, the signal's wavelength is 327 yds (300 m), about three times the length of a football field. One wavelength is about 1 ft (0.3 m) at the ultra-high frequency used by cellular telephones.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Quantum electronics to ReasoningRadio - The History Of Radio, Radio And The Electromagnetic Spectrum, How Radio Signals Are Created, Modulation - Demodulation