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Nearly six months after his return to daily radio yakking, Michael Jackson is riding high with a strong first quarter Arbitron report card and the prospect of taking his KRLA show into national syndication.

Jackson, who joined CBS-owned KRLA-AM in January after a 32-year run at KABC-AM, weighed in as KRLA’s highest-rated personality by a solid margin in the Winter ’99 Arbitron ratings report for the Los Angeles market.

“It has been a joy,” said Jackson, noting that his show has taken up permanent residence at the Museum of Television & Radio in Beverly Hills. “I’m in a great spot, and I think the world is more and more attuned to talk radio. And the people at CBS have been nothing but utterly supportive.”

Jackson had been off the Monday-Friday beat since July 1997, when he was shifted to weekends on KABC as rival KFI-AM tightened its grip on the 9 a.m.-noon timeslot with the syndicated Rush Limbaugh show.

In his KRLA debut, Jackson averaged a 2.7 Arbitron rating among listeners age 12 and up during the first three months of the year, or about 67,000 listeners a day. Jackson placed No. 2 in the 9 a.m.-noon timeslot, trailing KFI’s Limbaugh (who averaged 137,100 listeners) but ahead of KABC’s Dennis Prager (52,100).

KABC reps noted that Prager beat Jackson in the demographic categories of listeners age 25-54 and 35-54. In fact, Prager’s demo numbers were up in comparison with Winter ’98, while Limbaugh posted double-digit declines.

For KRLA, program director Ron Escarsega said Jackson’s numbers were “way ahead of our expectations” for its target 35-64 aud. Moreover, KRLA just last November changed its program format to talk after more than 20 years as an oldies/R&B outlet, making Jackson’s comeback all the more challenging, Escarsega said.

Now, KRLA is fielding syndie offers for Jackson’s show. Although KRLA parent CBS is the majority owner of powerhouse radio distrib Westwood One, serious negotiations are understood to be under way with a smaller radio syndie outfit. Escarsega and reps for Jackson would not elaborate, but a deal is expected to come together soon.

Meanwhile, Jackson is prepping for a busy travel schedule as his show hits the presidential campaign trail next year with an eye toward expanding to a national audience.

In other KRLA news, the station has tapped producer and former Fox pic exec Joe Wizan to host a Sunday 3-5 p.m. call-in show focusing on filmdom and its practitioners. “Inside the Movies” bows this Sunday.