magnetic fields. Because of this combination of fields, radio waves are also referred to as ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION. ">

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An energy wave generated by a transmitter is called a RADIO WAVE. The radio wave radiated into space by the transmitting antenna is a very complex form of energy containing both electric and magnetic fields. Because of this combination of fields, radio waves are also referred to as ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION.

This discussion will explain the Earth's atmosphere and its effect on radio waves. All the principles of wave motion that were discussed in chapter 1 also apply to radio waves.

NOTE: The term radio wave is not limited to communications equipment alone. The term applies to all equipment that generate signals in the form of electromagnetic energy.


The basic shape of the wave generated by a transmitter is that of a sine wave. The wave radiated out into space, however, may or may not retain the characteristics of the sine wave.

A sine wave can be one cycle or many cycles. Recall from chapter 1 that the number of cycles of a sine wave that are completed in 1 second is known as the frequency of the sine wave. For example, 60 cycles of ordinary house current occur each second, so house current is said to have a frequency of 60 cycles per second or 60 hertz.

The frequencies falling between 3000 hertz (3 kHz) and 300,000,000,000 hertz (300 GHz) are called RADIO FREQUENCIES (abbreviated rf) since they are commonly used in radio communications. This part of the radio frequency spectrum is divided into bands, each band being 10 times higher in frequency than the one immediately below it. This arrangement serves as a convenient way to remember the range of each band. The rf bands are shown in table 2-1. The usable radio-frequency range is roughly 10 kilohertz to 100 gigahertz.

Table 2-1. - Radio Frequency Bands

Very low VLF 3 to 30 KHz
Low LF 30 to 300 KHz
Medium MF 300 to 3000 KHz
High HF 3 to 30 MHz
Very high VHF 30 to 300 MHz
Ultra high UHF 300 to 3000 MHz
Superhigh SHF 3 to 30 GHz
Extremely high EHF 30 to 300 GHz

Any frequency that is a whole number multiple of a smaller basic frequency is known as a HARMONIC of that basic frequency. The basic frequency itself is called the first harmonic or, more commonly, the FUNDAMENTAL FREQUENCY. A frequency that is twice as great as the fundamental frequency is called the second harmonic; a frequency three times as great is the third harmonic; and so on. For example:

First harmonic (Fundamental frequency) 3000 kHz
Second harmonic 6000 kHz
Third harmonic 9000 kHz

The PERIOD of a radio wave is simply the amount of time required for the completion of one full cycle. If a sine wave has a frequency of 2 hertz, each cycle has a duration, or period, of one-half second. If the frequency is 10 hertz, the period of each cycle is one-tenth of a second. Since the frequency of a radio wave is the number of cycles that are completed in one second, you should be able to see that as the frequency of a radio wave increases, its period decreases.

A wavelength is the space occupied by one full cycle of a radio wave at any given instant. Wavelengths are expressed in meters (1 meter is equal to 3.28 feet). You need to have a good understanding of frequency and wavelength to be able to select the proper antenna(s) for use in successful communications. The relationship between frequency, wavelength, and antennas will be discussed in chapter 4 of this module.

The velocity (or speed) of a radio wave radiated into free space by a transmitting antenna is equal to the speed of light - 186,000 miles per second or 300,000,000 meters per second. Because of various factors, such as barometric pressure, humidity, molecular content, etc., radio waves travel inside the Earth's atmosphere at a speed slightly less than the speed of light. Normally, in discussions of the velocity of radio waves, the velocity referred to is the speed at which radio waves travel in free space.

The frequency of a radio wave has nothing to do with its velocity. A 5-megahertz wave travels through space at the same velocity as a 10-megahertz wave. However, the velocity of radio waves is an important factor in making wavelength-to-frequency conversions, the subject of our next discussion.

Q.4 What is the term used to describe the basic frequency of a radio wave? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.5 What is the term used to describe a whole number multiple of the basic frequency of a radio wave? answer.gif (214 bytes)


Radio waves are often referred to by their wavelength in meters rather than by frequency. For example, most people have heard commercial radio stations make announcements similar to the following: "Station WXYZ operating on 240 meters..." To tune receiving equipment that is calibrated by frequency to such a station, you must first convert the designated wavelength to its equivalent frequency.

As discussed earlier, a radio wave travels 300,000,000 meters a second (speed of light); therefore, a radio wave of 1 hertz would have traveled a distance (or wavelength) of 300,000,000 meters. Obviously then, if the frequency of the wave is increased to 2 hertz, the wavelength will be cut in half to 150,000,000 meters. This illustrates the principle that the HIGHER THE FREQUENCY, the SHORTER THE WAVELENGTH.

Wavelength-to-frequency conversions of radio waves are really quite simple because wavelength and frequency are reciprocals: Either one divided into the velocity of a radio wave yields the other. Remember, the formula for wavelength is:

The wavelength in meters divided into 300,000,000 yields the frequency of a radio wave in hertz. Likewise, the wavelength divided into 300,000 yields the frequency of a radio wave in kilohertz, and the wavelength divided into 300 yields the frequency in megahertz.

Now, let us apply the formula to determine the frequency to which the receiving equipment must be tuned to receive station WXYZ operating on 240 meters. Radio wave frequencies are normally expressed in kilohertz or megahertz.

To find the frequency in hertz, use the formula:

To find the frequency in kilohertz, use the formula:

To find the frequency in megahertz, use the formula:

Q.6 It is known that WWV operates on a frequency of 10 megahertz. What is the wavelength of WWV? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.7 A station is known to operate at 60 - meters. What is the frequency of the unknown station? answer.gif (214 bytes)

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