A vertical antenna in its simplest form, is electrically equivalent to one-half of a dipole antenna stood on end. When the antenna is mounted close to the ground, the earth below takes the place of the “missing” half of the dipole. If ground conductivity is fair to good, a short metal stake or rod may provide a sufficiently good ground connection for resonant and low SWR operation on the bands for which the antenna is designed. This basic arrangement is shown in
The way it works is that the capacitance between the vertical radiator and the ground causes return currents to flow along the earths surface back to the transmitter. If they have to come back along untreated lossy earth thy get back to the source greatly attenuated. This return loss is like a resistor in series with the antenna radiation resistance and will therefore affect the feed point impedance. In almost every case the efficiency of a vertical antenna will be greater if radial wires are used to improve ground conductivity as in figure 2. It’s important to note that there’s no point in cutting radials to any particular length when ground mounting because the earth will detune them anyway. All you want to do is make the surface of the earth around the antenna more conductive than it is ordinarily.
If you can’t copper-plate the backyard, the best approach is to run out as many radials as possible, each as long as possible around the antenna in all directions. Radials may be left on top of the ground however they should be buried for the sake of pedestrians and lawnmowers. How long should radials be? A good rule is no shorter than the antenna is tall because 50% of your losses will occur in the first 1/4 8 out from the antenna. If you have more than a dozen radials, they must be longer to get the most out of them which is why the FCC specifies 113 wires each .4 8 for AM broadcast stations—the equivalent of a zero-loss ground plane. Obviously, for most ham work this would be overkill.
In some cases wire mesh (i.e. chicken wire) may be used as a substitute for radial wires and/or a ground connection, the mesh or screen acting as one plate of a capacitor to provide coupling to the earth beneath the antenna. It should be noted that a ground rod is useful only as a d.c. ground or as a tie point for radials. It does little or nothing to reduce ground losses at r.f. regardless of how far it goes into the ground. Bare wire, insulated, any gauge, it doesn’t matter. The current coming back along any one wire won’t amount to that much.
The importance of reducing losses in the ground system can be seen from an examination of a vertical antenna’s feedpoint impedance which at resonance consists of three components: antenna radiation resistance; conductor loss resistance; and earth loss resistance. An unloaded quarter-wave vertical antenna has a radiation resistance of about 35 ohms with negligible ohmic or conductor loss, but ground loss resistance may be very great if no measures are taken to reduce it, and in some cases ground loss R may even exceed the antenna radiation resistance. These three components may be added together to arrive at the feedpoint impedance of a resonant (no reactance) antenna. For the sake of illustration, assume that the ground loss beneath a quarter wavelength vertical antenna is 15 ohms, that conductor
Modern solid state amateur equipment is particularly vulnerable to damage from lightning or static induced transients that may appear on transmission lines, and conventional air-gap lightning protectors may provide no real protection at all for solid state gear. loss resistance is zero, and that the radiation resistance is the textbook figure of 35 ohms. The feedpoint impedance would then be 15+0+35 = 50 ohms, and the antenna would be perfectly matched to a 50 ohm coaxial line. Since the radiation resistance is an index of the amount of applied power that is consumed as useful radiation rather than simply lost as heat in the earth or in the conductor, the radiation resistance must be kept as high as possible in relation to the total feedpoint impedance for maximum efficiency. Efficiency, expressed as a percentage, may be found by dividing the radiation resistance by the total feedpoint impedance of a resonant antenna, so under the conditions assumed above our vertical antenna would show an efficiency of 35/50 = 70%. As a vertical antenna is made progressively shorter than one-quarter wavelength the radiation resistance drops rapidly and conductor losses from the required loading inductors increase. A one-eighth wave inductively loaded vertical would have a radiation resistance of something like 15 ohms and coil losses (or trap losses for multiband antennas) would be in the range of 5 ohms. Assuming the same value of ground loss resistance (15 ohms), the feedpoint impedance would become 15 + 5 + 15 = 35 ohms and the efficiency would be 15/35=43%. From the above calculations it is clear that the shorter a vertical antenna must be the less efficient it also must be for a given ground loss resistance. Or to state the matter another way, more elaborate ground or radial systems must be used with shorter verticals for reasonable efficiency. If the ground loss of resistance of 15 ohms from the preceding example could be reduced to zero ohms, it is easy to show that the efficiency of our one-eighth wavelength loaded vertical would increase to 75%. Unfortunately, more than 100 radials each one-half wavelength long would be required for zero ground loss, so lower efficiencies with shorter radials must usually be accepted for the sake of convenience. In spite of their limitations, short vertical antennas over less than ideal ground systems are often more effective DX performers than horizontal dipoles which must be placed well above the earth (especially on the lower bands) to produce any significant radiation at the lower elevation angles. Verticals, on the other hand, are primarily low-angle radiators on all bands.
METAL TOWERS AND MASTS
If a metal mast or tower is used to support a vertical antenna all radials should be connected to the mast or tower at the ground connection of the antenna feedline. This is because one of the functions of a resonant radial is to detune a supporting metal structure for antenna currents that might otherwise flow on the structure and thus turn the vertical antenna system into a vertical long wire with unwanted high-angle radiation.
OTHER MOUNTING SCHEMES
In cases where a resonant vertical antenna may neither be ground mounted nor used with an elevated ground plane, operation may still be possible if connection can be made to a large mass of metal that is directly connected or capacitively coupled to the ground, e.g., central air conditioning systems or structural steel frames of apartment buildings. Some amateurs have reported good results with vertical antennas extended horizontally or semi-vertically from metal terraces which serve as the ground connection. Alternatively, a quarterwave vertical may be window mounted if a short ground lead to a cold water pipe or radiator can be used. If a long lead must be used, tuned radials may be required for resonance on one or more bands. Great care should be exercised in such installations to avoid power lines and to keep the antenna from falling onto persons or property.
MOBILE HOME AND RV INSTALLATION
The principles of vertical antenna installations for use on mobile homes or RV’s are the same as for other installations, and they all boil down to two main considerations. The first is that of erecting the vertical in the clearest possible spot, away from obstacles (including the MH or RV) that can interfere with radiation from the antenna. The second is that of installing the beat possible ground system beneath the antenna in order to minimize losses from r.f. currents flowing in the earth below the antenna. Fortunately, the metal bodies of both MHz and RVs can be used as highly conducting ground planes for vertical antennas in exactly the same way that automobile bodies, etc., provide the ground system for shorter vertical antennas for mobile operation. The metal body of an automobile, MH or RV may be viewed as one plate of a capacitor. Since the surface area of even a small automobile is quite large and in close proximity to the earth, its body is tightly coupled to the earth below and may be considered simply as an extension of the earth itself—a kind of hill as far as radio frequencies are concerned, but one having higher conductivity than the earth itself. RVs and especially MHz, having much greater surface area, will therefore provide a more extensive and effective ground system than a large number of radial wires occupying the same space as the MH or RV.