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Passive radio frequency (RF) tags in the UHF and microwave bands have drawn considerable attention because of their great potential for use in many radio frequency identification (RFID) applications. However, more basic research is needed to increase the range and reliability of a passive RF tag's radio link, particularly when the RF tag is placed onto any lossy dielectric or metallic surface. This paper presents two new useful forms of the radio link budget that describe the power link of an RF tag system when the tag is attached to an object. These radio link budgets are dependent upon the gain penalty, a term which quantifies the reduction in RF tag antenna gain due to material attachment. A series of measurements, or radio assay, was used to measure the far-field gain pattern and gain penalty of several flexible 915 MHz antennas when attached to cardboard, pine plywood, acrylic, deionized water, ethylene glycol, ground beef, and an aluminum slab. It is shown that the gain penalty due to material attachment can result in more than 20 dB of excess loss in the backscatter communication link.