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A new theory is given for the way in which the number of echoes received from sporadic meteor ionization trails varies with radar wavelength and other system parameters. Previously-published explanations of the echo rate dependence on wavelength are critically examined. The present explanation of echo rate variations is based upon a more complete analysis of the radio reflection process than is afforded by the Lovell-Clegg theory. The effects of high electron density, the linear rate of trail formation, and the initial column radius are discussed. A number of apparent conflicts in earlier investigations are reconciled by the new theory.