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Perot Takes Gadfly Act to Talk Radio : Broadcasting: He says there's no personal political ambition behind 'Listening to America,' which dishes up politics, current events and business and financial advice.

November 12, 1994|CLAUDIA PUIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Not so long ago, Ross Perot was jousting in the same arena as Bill Clinton and George Bush. These days, the Texas billionaire is tackling a new challenge that puts him in the same ring as Rush Limbaugh and Paul Harvey.

The folksy-sounding Perot is now the host of his own syndicated call-in radio talk show, "Listening to America," heard locally on KABC-AM (790) and on more than 100 other stations across the country.

The hourlong program covers politics, social issues and current events, and also dishes out business and financial advice from the man who created an industry with his computer-services business, Electronic Data Systems Inc.

The show is an outgrowth of the 1992 presidential campaign, in which independent candidate Perot attracted 20% of the vote. "There's a tremendous clamor for me to communicate to the American public, so we responded to it," he explained during a recent interview at a Beverly Hills hotel, before Tuesday's elections, in which his endorsements in New York and Texas brought mixed results.

Radio was not his first choice, however. Perot said he would have preferred to continue buying network television time, as he did during the campaign, but that "all three networks shut us down." He rejected cable television because only about 63% of Americans are subscribers.

"Radio serves two functions," Perot, 64, said. "Certainly, most people have radios, whether they have televisions or not. More importantly, in radio it's easier to give people a voice because you have more time. On television, the time's so valuable (that) everything just gets sound bites. . . . In retrospect, this is a better alternative."

"Listening to America" began Oct. 9 but was picked up here only last week.

"We found a slot for him only because we thought he'd attract a whole lot of attention," said KABC general manager George Green. "I happen to be a big Ross Perot fan, primarily because of his posture relative to the debt of the nation and deficit spending . . . but it was strictly a business decision. He does have a lot of fans still, in spite of the fact that he may have lost a lot. He's still respected by both the Administration and the opposition. I like his mouth. I like the fact that he doesn't use fancy language. I think it's going to be an audience-grabber. And if he's not, we will dump it."

And, Green said, "if it turns out that he's using this radio station as a platform for running for President again, it'll be a short association."

Perot said that Green need not worry. Asked if his radio show will serve to keep his name in the public's mind for a future presidential bid, Perot became testy.

"No! That's your question, that's not mine," he snapped. "I get so tired of hearing that question. I never wanted to pursue a political career. I don't have any goals as far as personal politics. I'm probably the luckiest person alive in this country--from the time I was born up until today. Whatever I can do to help solve these problems, I'll do. But not to achieve any personal goal for me."

He said he believes in the two-party system (although he endorsed a third-party candidate in the New York gubernatorial campaign) but that if it fails, he'll spearhead a move to create a third party--predicting it would take five to 10 years to get one up and running. Even with that, though, he said, he has no plans to throw his hat in the ring.

"In that third party, there could be 50 people better than me to run," Perot said.

The country-style modesty extends to his new radio job.

Though his show--which originates from KRLD-AM in Dallas--is longer and more interactive than the commentaries of veteran radio broadcaster Paul Harvey, Perot prefers Harvey's style--and that of CBS commentator Charles Osgood--to the more combative approach of Limbaugh or raunchmeister Howard Stern.

"I would prefer you not put me in a category with Howard Stern," he said. "Believe me, I'm no Paul Harvey or Osgood, but the listeners have expressed interest."

He hopes, he says, to empower listeners through his show to challenge big government.

"I want to give people a sense that they have to (change things)," Perot said. "If you leave it to the special interests in Washington, you'll have no say. If you want it fixed for your children and grandchildren, you're going to have to fix it. . . . So we'll keep focusing on truth in government. Every Sunday night we'll say: 'Here are the questions. Here are the answers.' "

* "Listening to America" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on KABC-AM (790).

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