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This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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And I'm Steve Inskeep. Mike Huckabee fell short four years ago when he took on John McCain in his quest to become the Republican presidential nominee. Then he went on TV. And as of this week, Huckabee has a new job as a national radio talk show host. The former Arkansas governor is now taking aim at another notable conservative: talk radio's Rush Limbaugh. NPR's David Folkenflik reports.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The show started Monday with an anticipatory flourish.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE MIKE HUCKABEE SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Here is Governor Mike Huckabee.

MIKE HUCKABEE: Welcome to the community of conversation. You've just made a right turn, and you've arrived at the corner of conservatism and common sense. In this show, we're going to be confronting the issues, not the listeners.

FOLKENFLIK: Huckabee's no media novice. He's been on radio since he was a teenager. And that introduction was no accident, as Mike Huckabee tells me when he stops by NPR's bureau in New York.

HUCKABEE: One of the trademarks that we are putting on this show is that it's going to be more conversation and less confrontation. If anyone has watched my television show, they know that I don't bring people on the set to see if I can yell at them and push their buttons - and raise everybody's blood pressure. I have people on my show that are as polar opposite of me philosophically as someone can be, but I'm always going to treat them with respect.

FOLKENFLIK: Raising temperatures, pushing buttons? Oh, yeah. That sounds an awful lot like that other guy who broadcasts in the 12 noon-to-3 p.m. slot.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

RUSH LIMBAUGH: You know, I'm trying to have a nice day, living my life, and all of a sudden I find out that Obama and the Democrats are once again impugning the name and reputation of Ronald Reagan.

FOLKENFLIK: Right. Rush Limbaugh, who again found himself in hot water last month after accusing a Georgetown law student of being a slut - his actual words - because she testified in favor of health-care coverage for birth control. Limbaugh ultimately backpedaled and apologized, which is rare for him.

Huckabee has been doing daily radio commentary for the producers of his new show, Cumulus Media, since 2008. And he says planning for this radio show has been in the works for a while.

HUCKABEE: In some ways, it's serendipitous for us to have national controversy brewing at a time when we're entering into the marketplace. It's almost like, you know, during the Tylenol scare, it's a great time to be Bayer Aspirin right then.

FOLKENFLIK: Cumulus Media has recently acquired hundreds of radio stations.

AMY YONG: Now that they have 570 stations across the U.S., it makes sense for them to invest in programming, right. I mean, they can use the programming on a much greater scale than they could before.

FOLKENFLIK: That's Amy Yong, a vice president and equity research analyst at Macquarie Bank. She says the Huckabee show should help Cumulus keep more revenue.

YONG: And it also makes sense just given the size, relative to someone like Clear Channel, who's been historically the 800-pound gorilla in the industry.

FOLKENFLIK: The rival Clear Channel Company being Limbaugh's distributor. So Cumulus has to carry off its challenge to Limbaugh with some finesse. John Dickey is co-chief operating officer of Cumulus.

JOHN DICKEY: Rush is obviously the undisputed king of talk radio. He invented the game. But not everybody can have Rush or wants Rush.

FOLKENFLIK: Indeed, Cumulus runs Limbaugh's show on dozens of its own stations, and Dickey says his company intends to be in business with Limbaugh for quite some time. But it wants to develop its own roster of stars.

DICKEY: Well, I think the quote was "we eat our own cooking." I think that was mine. And we've got the governor's show on, give or take, 40 radio stations in 40 different cities out of the 120 we do business in.

FOLKENFLIK: On Monday, Huckabee had a pretty big get.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE MIKE HUCKABEE SHOW")

HUCKABEE: And we're very happy to have Gov. Mitt Romney join me as our very first guest on "The Mike Huckabee Show." Gov. Romney, welcome. It's good to have you here.

MITT ROMNEY: Thanks, Mike. Good to be with you, and congratulations on the new show.

HUCKABEE: Well, thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: There were other familiar figures, including Fox News commentator Dick Morris and Republican strategist Ed Rollins, both former Huckabee consultants. But on that first show, there was also a ringer.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE MIKE HUCKABEE SHOW")

HUCKABEE: All right. We're going to go to the phone lines. And we've got a call from Mike in San Francisco. Welcome to the "The Mike Huckabee Show," Mike.

MIKE: Well, governor, let me start by saying it's great to have a different opinion, and a different person on the radio. And I'm very, very happy that you're doing this radio show.

FOLKENFLIK: Mike the caller was actually one of Huckabee's new bosses, Mike McVay, the senior vice president for programming at Cumulus. McVay's call was revealed by the conservative publication the American Spectator, which blasted Huckabee as a RINO - a Republican in name only. Huckabee says people mistake his civility for centrism.

HUCKABEE: Four years ago, when I ran for president, I told people that I'm a conservative, but I'm not mad at anybody over it. And I'm not. I'm a very happy guy.

FOLKENFLIK: And now we'll find out if Mike Huckabee's brand of conservatism will inspire enough Huckabeetniks to rival the audiences of Limbaugh's Dittoheads.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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