Roger Ailes, the media maven who helped put Ronald Reagan and George Bush in the White House, has signed on as president of the cable network CNBC and its sister channel America’s Talking, which is still in development.

Ailes, who will replace the retiring Al Barber, is known best as the media sage of political campaigns, but insists he’s out of politics. Instead, he says, he will “draw on my background in programming, production and marketing” to improve CNBC and create an all-talk network that will tap into the country’s huge appetite for talkshows.

Neither Ailes nor Bob Wright, president and CEO of NBC, rules out shifting some of CNBC’s evening talkshow hosts — including Tom Snyder, John McLaughlin and Dick Cavett — to America’s Talking when the latter is up and running, probably in early spring.

CNBC is the most widely circulated business-news network,reaching close to 50 million homes.

“Strong personalities are the key to successful programming,” says Ailes, pointing to his TV work in the past with Steve Allen, Mike Douglas and Snyder; his ongoing role as executive producer of Multimedia Entertainment’s “Rush Limbaugh: The TV Show,” the high-rated syndicated strip; and his tenure as a consultant for Paramount TV’s “The John & Leeza Show,” the struggling NBC daytime talkshow.

Despite his new job at CNBC, Ailes will continue to work on “Limbaugh” and NBC’s “John & Leeza” show. But Tom Rogers, exec VP of NBC and prexy of NBC Cable , says Ailes will give up his consultancy on three other Paramount syndicated strips: “Entertainment Tonight,””The Maury Povich Show” and “Hard Copy.” Whether Paramount will remain a client of Ailes Communications “is unsettled at this moment,” says Ailes senior VP Kathy Ardleigh.

Ailes is leaving as chairman, but Ardleigh says Ailes Communications, which has a staff of 20 people, will continue to function, with Jon Kraushar as president. She adds that confidentiality contracts prevent her from disclosing the identities of the corporations that rely on the company for media guidance.

Ailes will also be leaving as a principal in the media-buying firm Media Inc. But Michael Kubin, managing director of Media Inc., says the company “will continue to maintain a relationship with Ailes Communications. We don’t expect to lose any clients — Roger wouldn’t have made the move to CNBC if he thought it would’ve caused us any problems.”

Newsport connection

Rogers says Ailes will be available to help in the startup of Newsport, a still-gestating 24-hours-a-day cable network that will focus on news and information about sports. Newsport is a part of Rainbow Programming Holdings, a joint venture of NBC, Liberty Media and Cablevision Systems. NBC’s main role will be to sell the advertising time on Newsport.

But Ailes’ first priority will be CNBC and America’s Talking, which “I’m looking forward to running because these are networks geared to two of the most desirable niche audiences in the country — the business-news audience and the talkshow audience.”

Ailes will report directly to Wright, but will report to Rogers concerning CNBC’s role in the cable industry.