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The phone lines open, and the ranting and raving begins. It's talk radio, the subject is politics, and what you hear is not really representative of the general public, a study says.

In communities across America, the callers are angry, angrier than most Americans, according to a report from the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press released Thursday.The center wanted to know how reflective callers to radio shows are of the population in general.

It concluded that "American opinion is being distorted and exaggerated by the voices that dominate the airwaves of talk radio," after surveying a representative sampling of the U.S. population, interviewing 120 identified talk show callers and talking to 112 radio hosts.

"In the current environment, these new voices of public opinion can caricature discontent with American political institutions, rather than genuinely reflect public disquiet," the center's report said.

Talk radio listeners and callers have a dimmer view of President Clinton than the average person and a brighter one of Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas.

They complain more about Congress, the United Nations, the news media and the church than most people. Men outnumber women two to one. Times Mirror calls them the "vocal minority."

When the hosts were questioned about their callers, they, too, characterized them as more angry, anti-government, critical of the president and Congress and conservative than other people.

It's not that talk show participants are completely out of step with the nation, they just feel stronger about most things, Times Mirror discovered.

Listeners in general said they like to hear opinions different from their own, but those with the strongest views tended to believe opposing opinions were over-represented.