Improve Your HT Ham Radio By Adding A Counterpoise Antenna Wire


We found an interesting tip that might just improve the performance of those small affordable handheld ham radios called a “Handy Talky” or HT for short in ham vernacular. [RadioHamGuy] posted an interesting video on adding a counterpoise antenna wire to an HT. He claims it will noticeably improve both transmit and receive by making a quarter-wave monopole into a makeshift dipole antenna system.

Per his instructions you basically add a short wire to the antenna’s outer ground connection or to an equivalent case screw that’s electrically connected to the antenna’s ground side. Apparently this can be referred to as a Tiger Tail and does make it look like your HT has a tail. You would construct a counterpoise antenna wire 11.5 inch for VHF, 6.5 for UHF and about 19.5 inches for an OK performing dual band VHF/UHF radio.

Normally with a handheld radio the counterpoise (ground) is your own body as you are holding the HT. This is because the capacitance of your body makes a good counterpoise under normal conditions. It would be interesting to hear what others find for performance when adding a counterpoise antenna wire.

You can watch [RadioHamGuy’s] full construction tutorial video for multiple radio types after the break.

38 thoughts on “Improve Your HT Ham Radio By Adding A Counterpoise Antenna Wire

  1. I always thought “HT” was “handheld transceiver”.
    Also, I wonder if I could get away with making a little plush sleeve to go over it. I bet furry hams would love it…

          1. And then the term became commonly understood to mean any HT. Ever hear of a Xerox copy? Think those can only be made on Xerox brand machines?

      1. Actually from the old WWII SCR-536 “Handi-Talky” that was developed in 1940 and was the first FM UHF two-way radio you could hold in your hand (well, sort of if you had BIG hands . . .)

        1. Yes John Mengel, the SCR-536 was developed in 1940 by Galvin Manufacturing. Which is now known as Motorola… so the original Handie-Talkie was Motorola but was not referred to by it’s developer name, just its official designation(SCR-536) or its common name used by soldiers and civilian alike – “Handie-Talkie”. So – if it counts Dain was right, RB was wrong, and the meaning of HT today when referring to hand held portables is whatever the people TODAY consider it to mean as it is only an abbreviation. If it matters, 3 of the first 4 places I went to in order to check usage consider it to mean handie-talkie (or handy talky) so it seems the vote of public opinion is on the handie-talkie side. Let the discussion continue.

    1. You are correct Scorinth, the correct term for the acronym “HT” is “Hand-held Transceiver”, or “Hand Transceiver” is also acceptable if you are orally lazy.

      “Walkie-Talkie” is a child’s term for a portable CB or other small unlicensed hand-held radio.
      “Handy-Talkie” was a slang term meant to take the intimidation factor out of the technical term “Hand-held Transceiver”, and sometimes used in advertising to sell unlicensed or business-band 2-way portable radios.

  2. Works, although is mostly an example of why grounding is so important for car-mounted mobiles. On an HT, it does not usually make it into a dipole, as that would actually reduce its performance. Many HT whips (non-ducky) manage to scrounge up some nontrivial gain.

      1. Since the antenna is designed to work as a monopole. It expects the other side to be ground. The counterload offered by the HT is quite small so adding radials will help (a metal plate even more).

          1. A dipole is balanced, and driven with a balanced feed, which means the E and H fields are symmetric about the plane that cuts between the poles, and also has a higher radiation resistance than a monopole, which means it’s more efficient.

            The monopole is half the length, but requires a large counterpoise (i.e. a ground plane) or else the radiation pattern starts tilting upwards.

            The HT rubber duck antennas are typically helical resonators; they wind the monopole in a coil to compact the size. Your body acts a counterpoise, and the antenna is somewhat tuned to have a decent impedance when it is held, but your body is a poor conductor so it’s lossy. Adding on the wire counterpoise will reduce the loss, but maybe change the impedance. The increased efficiency probably nets you more gain that the impedance detuning.

        1. ha! I sandwiched a piece of aluminum flashing in between the antenna base of my HT antenna and the radio body….generally a flat plane…it worked better than than without the “plate” even though it was less elevated…about 5′ vs 8 feet ……will do more experiments later.

      2. Several people that tested it report it works, so ignore some guy blabbing how it does not based on some vague arguments that don’t hold.

        And you can always try it, it’s a damn piece of wire, it’s easy to try.

    1. If you’re willing to crate one around and use it pretty much while standing still a dual-band 2M/7CM “J-Pole” type antenna made out of 300 ohm TV twin-lead is about 5 feet in length and gives you a bit of gain plus the “bigger area, bigger signal” advantage. And you can roll it up and store it small with a bit of fish-line to hang it from when in use or even put it in a 1 inch PVC pipe and mag-mount it on your car and you still have your “Rubber Ducky” for use on the go.

      Tom (KE0EBP)

  3. They’re called Tiger Tails because that’s the name of the product / company that used to sell them. I don’t know how many people bought them because they’re so easy to make, but they had ads in QST, CQ, 73, etc. back in the late 90s or later.

    1. It will add ‘performance’, but there are at least two catches – (A) It is very dangerous should the wire get snagged on anything [plus being DoT illegal as a road hazard], including the undercarriage of other moving vehicles, and (B) the single trailing wire will give the Tx/Rx a very high degree of directionality; not good if you don’t know the heading of the station you will be ‘working’, and unmanagible as most roadways frequently undulate in direction.

      Most HAMs that do this, who are ‘working’ HF bands, will do it as they pull their vehicles into an area (large field, large empty parking lot, large empty truck stop, along a safe section of the road’s shoulder for the direction they wish, etc.) where in stopping will come to rest in a direction they wish the wire to lay. As a result of the drawbacks, most will take the time to design into the mobile platform the best ground-plane field they can contrive for the antenna in question, and understand the limitations of “It is what it is.”.

        1. Hey joe,

          My posting was in reference to ‘jkreski’ about trailing a LONG (many, many feet in length) counter-poise off the back of a vehicle for a simple vertical whip antenna (very, very tall) for HF frequencies. What you are talking about is for VHF/UHF transceivers where the C-P is rather short (19.5 inches; aka: a ‘tiger tail’). There is a great probability it would improve communications as you have stated, as it is better than using your body as such.

  4. I don’t want to get caught up in the “ham expert” babble, I made this counterpoise this morning and tried on my HT, I have a noticable increase in reception and transmission… other scientific info to report.

    1. First I am not an Electronics Engineer or anyone even remotely that level of expertise. That said I have done a lot of reading about antennas and I remember some of it. One of the things which I read, although I don’t remember if it was the Handbook, Antenna Book, or just a QST article; is that when you use an antenna which is resonant on 2 Meters as a 70 CM antenna that it will not harm the radio or cause it to fold back it’s power but it’s radiation pattern in the vertical plain was far less down toward the Horizontal plain. The illustrations which I saw showed a pattern with several different lobes in the vertical plain none of which were very near horizontal. The “Tiger Tail” counterpoises that I have seen were a little like a fan dipole in that they had separate wires for each band that the HT was to be used on. If all that isn’t rubbish then I would expect that your HT’s performance on the 70 Centimeter band would improve if you added a second wire cut to the correct length for 70 Centimeters. Likewise if one had a 3 band HT, such as the Kenwood TH-F6A, you could put 3 #14 AWG wires into a #10 AWG ring terminal and improve the performance on all 3 bands. If anyone needs to tell me that will not work please also tell me why in clear language.

      Tom Horne W3TDH

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