A theoretical model is developed to explain variations in airborne gamma-ray measurements over a calibration range near Ottawa, Ontario. The gamma-ray flux from potassium and the thorium decay series showed an expected decrease with increasing soil moisture. However, the gamma-ray flux from the uranium decay series was highest in the spring when the ground was water-saturated and even covered with snow. These results are explained through the build-up of radon and its associated gamma-ray-emitting decay products in the clay soil of the calibration range with increasing soil moisture. Similar results were found from airborne measurements over other clay soils. However, measurements over sandy soils showed that the count rates from all three radio elements increased with decreasing soil moisture. This difference between soil types was attributed to the lower radon emanation of the more coarse-grained sandy soils compared to finer-grained clay soils. The theoretical and experimental results demonstrate that any estimate of the natural gamma-ray field caused by radium in the ground must take into consideration the radon emanation coefficient of the soil. The radon diffusion coefficient of the soil must also be considered since it depends strongly on soil moisture. This has significant implications for the assessment of outdoor radiation doses using laboratory analyses of soil samples and the use of ground and airborne gamma-ray measurements for radon potential mapping.