The Ten Cent Modification You Can Do to Double Your Radio’s Range

David Spero
By David Spero November 3, 2016 13:39

The Ten Cent Modification You Can Do to Double Your Radio’s Range

Some things in life you can never have too much of.  But for this article, we’ll concentrate just on radio range/efficiency!

There are many ways to boost the range of your two-way radios.  The suggestions we offer fall into one of two categories – either getting a more powerful radio transmitter and more sensitive radio receiver, or boosting the effectiveness of your antenna.

Between these two choices, improving the effectiveness of your antenna is always the better approach.  More powerful transmitters and more sensitive receivers are, of course, more expensive than standard grade units, and a more powerful transmitter is also going to need much more power to operate – chewing through batteries maybe ten times faster, and/or becoming a power-hog when you’re off-grid and power is precious and limited.

One more important issue – the more powerful your signal, the further it goes, and the greater the number of people who might receive it.  This is seldom a good thing, particularly when you are trying to keep a low profile.

This is why our focus is not just on greater transmitting power, but also on better overall efficiency of the antenna so it can receive weaker signals more clearly, and – with our radios – if we improve our antenna, we often then cut back on our transmit power, keeping it at the minimum needed for the range we require.

Enough introduction.  By now, you’re probably keen to understand the 10¢ device and how it can double your radio range.  Actually, we may have misstated the truth – the device might cost you less than 10¢!

How a Piece of Wire Can Double Your Radio Range

This device is simply a piece of wire which dangles down off your hand-held radio transceiver.  That sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it, and a bit like the ‘patch’ devices that used to be sold to gullible fools to add to their cell phones, with claims either that they would magically filter out harmful radiation or boost the phone’s range or something.

But we’re not trying to sell you anything, and there is actual solid radio theory that readily explains how and why this works as it does.  And, most of all, you will actually perceive the great boost to your radio’s signal yourself – you will know if it works or doesn’t work.

Without going too much into the theory, but also giving you enough to understand that this is a bona fide scientific real thing, most antennas need two parts in order to work properly.  Sometimes the two parts are obscured as part of a single overall antenna structure, but any good antenna definitely does have two parts to it.

However, with a hand-held transceiver (HT) the people who design them have pretty much unanimously decided that people prefer small portable robust units rather than larger, bulkier, and more fragile units.  They have taken that perception and used it to justify making the antennas small and inadequate.  They know the antenna is inefficient, but it is also small and strong, and they feel that is more important to most people, most of the time, than is a bulkier more fragile antenna but with better range (and with removable/replaceable antennas, if you do want/need a better antenna, you can simply buy one, as most of us do).

The manufacturers are probably correct in their assumption, and most of the time, we accept the limited performance we get from our HT antennas – but sometimes we need better performance, and that’s what this article is all about.

We explain this so you understand the answer to the question ‘If this is so great, how come it isn’t already being offered on all radios?’.

To be more technically precise, the antenna on most hand-helds is typically some type of quarter-wave monopole radiator, usually inductively loaded to shorten its physical length while preserving its electrical length, most commonly a normal-mode helix.  Adding this extra piece of wire changes it to a half-wave dipole.

The first thing you should do with any HT is to replace its standard ‘rubber ducky’ stub antenna with a better antenna, with ‘better’ being in part synonymous with longer/bigger.

But even these improved antennas are still massively inadequate because they don’t provide some type of radiating element for both halves of the antenna.  Instead, the radio designers use various compromises in their design that basically end up as using your body as the other (‘ground’) half of the antenna system.  You’ll be unsurprised to learn that the human body, while wonderful in many ways, is not very good at doing double duty as a radio antenna!

So, to address this limitation, you can add the missing other half of the antenna to the radio yourself.  All it needs to be is a specific length of ordinary wire (bell wire or phone wire, ideally multi-strand so it is flexible, and insulated).  For 2M, this would be about 19.5″, for 1.25M, it would be 11.5″, and for 70cm, it would be about 6.5″.

bao4aFor best results, you want to strip the insulation off a short piece of the wire and then connect the exposed wire to the ‘ground’ or outside part of the antenna connector.  This is very easily done with the Baofeng units – just unscrew the antenna sufficiently to be able to poke in the wire then screw down the antenna again to secure it.  It might help if you break off/file down/drill a bit off the side of the plastic shroud surrounding the antenna mounting screw, making it easier to get the wire in and firmly clamped by then antenna.

You can also use various types of washers or electrical clamps and connectors to create a connection too, depending on how much work you want to put into this enhancement.

Once you have connected your wire, just let it hang down freely while using the HT.  Don’t grip the wire when holding the HT, but let the wire hang down separately.

When the radio is not in use, you can wind the wire around the set or do whatever else you like to store it conveniently.

What Sort of Improvement Will You Get?

You will notice a significant improvement in both transmitting and receiving on 2M, some improvement on 1.25M, and much less improvement on 70cm.  We’ll spare you the antenna theory issues as to why this is.

But on 2M, you can expect your signal strength to increase by perhaps 6dB.  Some hams report as much as a 9dB improvement, but we find that improbable.  A 6dB improvement is the same as increasing your transmitting power four-fold, so it is a huge/massive improvement, and truly could double your range – or could now allow you to reduce your transmitting power while still getting a signal out as far as before, and getting a greatly improved receive signal.

Now for an interesting extra point.  Not only do you not always need to boost your transmit and receive capabilities, but sometimes this can be inappropriate.  Sure, you can maybe offset a more efficient antenna by reducing your transmit power, but if you are already receiving very strong incoming signals, and particularly if you have some unwanted signals on nearby frequencies, boosting the signal from the antenna to the receiver can sometimes cause problems.  If you find, after adding this extra wire to your HT, that it actually receives more poorly than before, even though it is transmitting better, you have a problem with your receiver circuitry being de-sensitized by strong adjacent signals, and in such a case, you should stop boosting your antenna.

For this reason, there is another way you could conveniently control your antenna, making it easier to selectively add or remove the extra wire.  Have just a short lug connected to the antenna ‘ground’ base on the HT, and protruding slightly from the radio.  Then if you need a boost in capabilities, you can conveniently clip whichever antenna you want onto the radio, but if your receiver is being overloaded, you can unclip it again without any great hassle or bother.

Some Extra Tips and Suggestions

First, if you use your HT on more than one band, you will need different length wires for each band (19.5″, 11.5″ and 6.5″ for the common 2M, 1.25M and 70cm bands).  If you regularly switch bands, what you might want to do is have the 6.5″ wire mounted permanently, and keep two extender lengths, 5″ and 13″, then if you switch bands from 70cm, you connect the extender onto the bottom of the 6.5″ wire.

Note that the connection needs to be electrical, not just physical.  There are easy and complex ways of doing this – the easiest is stripping a bit of insulation off the end of the 6.5″ wire and off one end of the two extender wires, then simply twisting the two together.  Slightly more elegant would be to have an alligator clip on the extender wire, and more elegant still would be to have a paired socket and plug connector at the end of each wire.

Second, you don’t actually need to have your antenna wire physically connected to the ground of the main antenna at all.

You will get best results if it is connected, but if that is difficult – or if it is impossible, for example, with a radio that has a fixed antenna that you can’t unscrew to access its ground – you can create a capacitive coupling between the radio and your antenna, by simply terminating your wire in a metal path (tin foil or copper or whatever) and affixing the patch somewhere on the radio.  The bigger the patch size, the better, and some locations will work better than others.  Some trial and error experimentation might be called for to work out the best place to place the patch.

Of course you could also open up the radio casing and hard wire/solder the wire to a ground point on the radio’s circuit board or access the antenna’s connector internally, then have the wire coming out through a hole in the case, and that would be slightly better than the capacitive coupled device, but is more hassle.

Third, some people have chosen to connect the extra wire to the antenna’s connector rather than to the radio.  There’s no reason not to do this, and if you don’t want to do anything to your radio, and/or if it is easier to add the extra wire to the antenna’s connector rather than to the radio’s connector, that’s an equally fine solution.

Lastly, if you’re still not convinced about how a simple piece of wire can add so amazingly to your radio’s range, Google ‘tiger tail antenna’ to see many credible articles confirming it works.  But, really, you don’t need to do this, because it only costs you 10¢ and only takes you five minutes to do it yourself.  You’ll hear the difference, as will the people you’re communicating with.

And surely that’s what counts.

This article was written by David. If you liked it, you can visit his website at CodeGreenPrep.com.

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David Spero
By David Spero November 3, 2016 13:39
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20 Comments

  1. Annie November 3, 16:44

    Great hint thanks

    Reply to this comment
    • wa2qcj November 3, 18:05

      Yes, he did make a great presentation. There is, however one salient point. If the radio is an amateur band radio, you may find yourself left out. Some, not all, but some, in that situation are still going to hold to “the law”, and ignore anyone without a proper license. Silly, yes, given the circumstances, but still very true. Why, people will tend to hold onto what was, as a sense of stability. A commercial band radio, one that transmits outside of the 144 Mhz to 148 Mhz band would be safer to use. That said, I would still pick up an Amateur band radio. Why, declare an emergency, and anyone that can hear you will be “all ears”, because we are geared to listen for, and to respond to a call for help. In a SHTF situation, the emergency is all around us.

      Reply to this comment
      • Jack September 21, 19:28

        Just as a heads up in an emergency situation anyone can broadcast on a HAM frequency without fear of “reprisals” …I guess. Now there are always exceptions to the rule but all the HAM operators I’ve interacted with will go way out of there way to help someone in need, with or without a call sign. Your mileage may vary.

        Reply to this comment
        • The Ohio Prepper September 21, 21:51

          Jack,

          Just as a heads up in an emergency situation anyone can broadcast on a HAM frequency without fear of “reprisals” …I guess.

          This is true with certain exceptions. It must be a real emergency, with potential life safety or major property loss involved. After the event you must file with the FCC explaining what you did & why.

          all the HAM operators I’ve interacted with will go way out of there way to help someone in need, with or without a call sign. Your mileage may vary.

          We will do that for the emergency; but, then we may also try to convince you to get a license, since you would obviously already have the equipment.
          Getting the basic license (Technician class) is pretty easy now and requires no Morse code or deep technical knowledge.

          Reply to this comment
  2. charlie November 3, 17:06

    Some close up pictures would be good. There is a nut on my sma antenna, can I just solder a wire to a copper washer and put it there ?

    Reply to this comment
    • wa2qcj November 3, 17:55

      You would be better off using an alligator clip attached to the wire to make that connection. SMA connectors are not that robust, so, be careful with it. The washer might raise the connection to much for a good center pin connection.

      Reply to this comment
  3. wa2qcj November 3, 17:51

    Yes, Claude is right. Adding a wire to the outside shell of the antenna will aid performance. Let’s take this one step further. You’ll need to get this done, now. You need a connector, such as the BNC connector to make the connection to the antenna connector on the radio. To that connector add a 19 inch long piece of wire, stiff enough to stand straight up. To the outside shell of the connector, add at least 1, 4 would be better ground wires. You do not need to ground those wires to the earth itself. Various companies make 19 inch whip antennas which are great for 2 meter radios. A very important factor for the higher frequencies, such as 2 meters is height above the ground, The higher the antenna can be positioned, the better. For that, slightly more sophisticated antennas are needed. They can also be easily built by anyone. For the best use of the radio, get to a local HAM and ask for help. Those who wish to do so, contact me. My “nick name” is my call sign. Yes, I am a licensed “HAM”, and I am a good source for such information. On the point of electricity, there is a device known as a TEG. Heat one side, and keep the other side cooler than the heated side, with out going over the heat range of the device, and the device generates electricity. About 10 watts worth, 5 volts out, and a current of 2 amps, more or less. To find me, go to QRZ.com. They have my contact information.

    Reply to this comment
  4. left coast chuck November 3, 18:35

    My knowledge of radios is limited to” Turn the switch to the right to turn the radio on. Turn it to the left to turn it off.”

    This post was extremely helpful to me and the resources listed, namely the HAM who posted his contact info were extremely valuable and I hope to be able to mine his data fields to the extent that I am capable.

    Thank you once again for maintaining this very useful website. For me, it consistently provides the most useful prepper information that I have found. Yeah, sometimes I disagree with the info posted and sometimes I know the info posted is either weak or wrong, but overall this is the most valuable resource I have found.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Ricko November 11, 21:27

    Thanks for this great suggestion. I live in a rural area about 17 miles from a 2 meter repeater site. Outside I get 1 to 2 bars o’s signal strength on my Baofeng handy talky. It takes 8 watts output power to get a clear signal to the tower. Now, with the 17 inch wire attached under the antenna, I get 5 bars on receive and only need 5watts to hit the repeater with full quieting.
    Hard to believe 17 inches of stranded wire could make such a big difference.
    PS, I can now hit a second repeater 45 miles away with 5 watts that I couldn’t get at all before the mod.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Bill July 6, 00:50

    Is this mod primarily for rubber duck antennas or will it work with after market antennas as well? Ex: a Nagoya on a Baofeng.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Bogie7129 May 15, 19:13

    While your intent is good, I’m afraid I have to disagree with you. I’m one of those who will stick to “the law” except under extenuating circumstances and I have several,reasons for my position. When the SHTF it’ll be every man for himself and, let’s face it, a ham radio transmits a long way, more so that those walk-in talkies you see in stores. However, we HAMs have been trained in the most effective ways to communicate, the rest most likely have not. What will happen is all the eager beavers who just picked up a handi-talkie for the very first time will overtalk and overpower those who know the best way to do things. Our sole purpose for being is to provide communications in an emergency. With every Tom, Dick or Jane on the air at the same time it will sound like the chattering na-bobs from Hell. It will be rather akin to sending every grandmother in the left lane and teenager who just learned how to drive to the store for a jug of milk, and oh, while you’re there, pick me up one of them Big Hunks, wouldja, please? all at once on the only street in town, which just happens to be in use for a Formula 1 race. What success will anyone have? Likely, not much. Rather than do what has been suggested in this article, go to QRZ.com and look for your city there. You will find the names and addresses of all the HAM operators in your area, who will probably already be standing by to assist. One more point – all first responders are now required to have a HAM radio license in order to be more effective in their jobs. They have their license in order to communicate when all other comms are down. Think about it, do you really want to interfere with the trained professionals who might be on their way to save your life or the life of your loved one?

    Reply to this comment
  8. AI4HO Mark May 19, 14:10

    Good information, both sides make good points as far as the law goes. The wire trick….works, it does, I did it to one of my older HT’s a while back even in our town we have 3 or 4 2 meter repeaters it does work. It is one thing I would encourage all hams to do with their HT unless of course you live very, very near a repeater or own one.
    Now, as for the law of the land, as an ARRL certified volunteer examiner or VE I have given new hams the pleasure of welcoming them into the hobby over the years. In a lot of states it is required that 1st responders hold at least a technician class license, while others do not. However if the SHTF I mean REALLY hits the fan it won’t matter one whit if you have a valid amateur radio license! But that is only a certified global disaster that threatens life as we know it here on planet earth or if we herein the US ever get hit with a nuke or an EMP weapon of some kind. If it is an EMP weapon it won’t matter cause nothing will work not our cars, ATM, most ham radios will be of the non working variety. Ther are ways of protecting ones significant radio investment its called a Faraday Cage and it does work well, takes a lot of copper though. Or for those of us who are familiar with the older tube type radios then this would be a way to be able to stay in touch with the outside world……provided you have some way to power said tube type radio.
    A lot to think about though it would be beneficial to get ones amateur radio or ham license now at least you have us old timers to ask for help. Another couple of sites to go to for some great information is eham.net and arrl.org the latter can help you find a place near you to take you 1st ham radio test and enter the fascinating world of ham radio. You can use your laptop & connect an HF rig there are so many digital ways of communicating, the ham radio of today is not your fathers or even grandfathers ham radio, so much more to offer to any one from age 7 to 107! My station license or call sign is AI4HO my name is Mark and you can find me at either qrz.com or arrl.org arrl will most likely give you my alternate email any questions please email me….enjoy!

    Reply to this comment
  9. PNW Joe September 21, 18:08

    Can I use 11.5″ & 6.5″ for my Baofeng UV -5RV2+ Dual Band HAM radio?

    And does the wire for these extra antenna we’re adding, have to be covered by insulation??…Because I have a bunch of extra bare steel wire & it would be a lot easier to use it. .??!!??

    Oh and big gigantic thanks to the creators, web designers, researchers and more that work behind the scenes to make this website possible.

    Reply to this comment
  10. PNW Joe September 21, 20:43

    Can steel wire (uninsulated) be used for making 1 of these extra/Grounding Antennas?
    And, I have a Baofeng UV -5RV2+ w/ Dual Band & Dual-Watch, Should I be making 2 of these “grounding” Antennas, one at 11.5″ inches & one at 6.5″ inches?
    As it’s a dual band, VHF & UHF.
    Hope to hear an answer to these questions soon!! Btw I love this website and the emails I get from you!!! I have learned a lot thanks to you.

    Reply to this comment
  11. EDDIE February 20, 20:34

    SOUTH ARICA IS NEARLY IN NEED OF THIS INFO

    Reply to this comment
  12. EDDIE February 20, 20:35

    good information. WISH I could convince the ignorant.

    Reply to this comment
  13. JR February 22, 02:21

    Great information on making a tiger tail for your radio.
    JR. Ham radio operator. N3XV

    Reply to this comment
  14. The Ohio Prepper February 27, 14:56

    Lastly, if you’re still not convinced about how a simple piece of wire can add so amazingly to your radio’s range, Google ‘tiger tail antenna’

    Another item to Google is “Counterpoise”, which is the technical term for this addition.
    When working with optimizing your antenna, you need to think of the whole system, from the connector on the radio, through the transmission line to the antenna. For Frequencies above 100 MHz (VHF UHF, and microwave) the height of the antenna is very important; but, the transmission line is critical, since signal attenuation at those frequencies can be huge.
    Adding 3 db (doubling) or 6 db (quadrupling) your output signal using an amplifier can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars; but, regaining that much signal with a better transmission line (e.g., coaxial cable) will be orders of magnitude less expensive, and cost less to operate.

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