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Michael Reagan Opens the Mike and Guess Who Calls?

<i> Brass covers the media for the San Diego Edition of The Times. </i>

Officials at KSDO-AM (1130) knew they would get some interesting phone calls when their new morning talk-show host Michael Reagan started work Monday. Sure enough, when the first caller went on the air just after 5:30 a.m., the voice was familiar.

“Mike, this is your old man,” the caller said.

Despite initial skepticism from the KSDO staff, who feared they were being made the victim of a prank, the caller was President Reagan. The staff had arranged for Michael’s sister, Maureen, to call and wish him luck on his new career. His father called instead.

“I’m a little far away to hear the program, but I wanted to congratulate you on your first day and wish you well,” the President said on the air.

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Michael Reagan and KSDO program manager Jack Merker spent a few minutes talking with the President about his return to California and his weekend visit to Camp David. Father and son exchanged best wishes before the elder Reagan signed off.

“One of the more different wake-up calls I’ve ever had,” Merker said afterwards. “I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and I’ve never had a call from the White House. It’s kind of neat.”

Michael Reagan, 44, the President’s elder son, has signed a two-year contract to serve as an announcer for KSDO’s top-rated morning show, reading the news and bantering with Merker. Reagan, the adopted son of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, has been behind the mike at KSDO before, filling in for the regular talk-show hosts, such as former San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock.

Reagan also has served as a talk-show host for KABC-AM (790) in Los Angeles and for “Lingo,” a television game show in Canada, among other broadcasting jobs.

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When he was a high school quarterback, his nickname was “Mouth,” Reagan said at a news conference after his first morning stint.

“I don’t think that’s changed,” he said.

KSDO general manager Mike Shields acknowledged that the “Reagan name is very popular in San Diego,” but he denied that Michael Reagan was hired because of his name.

“The decision to hire Michael was based on the experience he had already exhibited to us sitting in for Roger Hedgecock,” Shields said. “Michael showed us he had the presence and talent to do the radio work. He has a very warm and friendly style.”

Thanks to his parents, Reagan has always been in the public eye. It has not always been a comfortable position for him. In 1981, he created a stir when he used his father’s name in a letter soliciting clients for an airplane parts company for which he worked.

During the early part of his father’s presidency, Michael focused much of his energy on organizing boat races for charity. Last year, he released something of a “Daddy Dearest” autobiography, “Michael Reagan: On the Outside Looking In,” which detailed his problems growing up as the son of Ronald Reagan. Reagan and Wyman were divorced when he was 3 years old.

“As you go through life, a lot of people try to use you,” Reagan said Monday. “The toughest thing is trying to find who is using you and who is not.”

KSDO officials didn’t have to try very hard to persuade him to join the station, Reagan said.

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“I don’t want to go through life telling people I turned down morning drive-time,” he quipped. “It’s new for me, and I’m looking forward to the stretch and getting into it.”

He said he enjoys working mornings, which leaves him time to play golf and be with his family. Currently a resident of the San Fernando Valley, he plans to move to San Diego after his children, Cameron, 9, and Ashley, 7, finish the school year.

On Friday, his father leaves office after eight years. Michael Reagan was asked what he would miss about having the White House as a second home.

“The fights with Nancy,” he said with a laugh, referring to his stepmother’s battered media image. “Nancy and I were talking and we decided that the press is one fight ahead of us.”

Noting that he is in “awe” of his father’s accomplishments, Michael, who wrote in his book that he always found it difficult to be close to his father, said he is looking forward to his father’s return to California, so they can spend more time together.

Reagan said he has learned from the example set by his father, a former radio sports broadcaster, but he does not try to compare himself to his father.

“I try to live up to Mike Reagan, not Ronald Reagan,” he said, adding that once the novelty of his family wears off, he will have to establish his own radio identity.

“People just won’t listen to a name,” he said.

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