Antenna Basics

You have probably noticed that almost every radio you see (like your cell phone, the radio in your car, etc.) has an antenna. Antennas come in all shapes and sizes, depending on the frequency the antenna is trying to receive. The antenna can be anything from a long, stiff wire (as in the AM/FM radio antennas on most cars) to something as bizarre as a satellite dish. Radio transmitters also use extremely tall antenna towers to transmit their signals.

The idea behind an antenna in a radio transmitter is to launch the radio waves into space. In a receiver, the idea is to pick up as much of the transmitter's power as possible and supply it to the tuner. For satellites that are millions of miles away, NASA uses huge dish antennas up to 200 feet (60 meters ) in diameter!

The size of an optimum radio antenna is related to the frequency of the signal that the antenna is trying to transmit or receive. The reason for this relationship has to do with the speed of light, and the distance electrons can travel as a result. The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second (300,000 kilometers per second). On the next page, we'll use this number to calculate a real-life antenna size.