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US WEST WANTS CUSTOMERS TO `TALK ALONG'

For those of you out there who have so far managed to avoid signing up for a cellular telephone, US WEST Cellular thinks it has your number.

It's called "Talk Along," and it now makes buying and using a wireless portable phone as easy as going to the store and charging a new pair of shoes on your credit card.And not just high-tech specialty stores, either.

Beginning Tuesday, Talk Along, consisting of a Nokia phone and activation kit, was available in Albertson's and Payless, to be followed by Gorilla Bike & Fitness, Inkley's, Ernst and Gart Bros. next week, with 80 retail locations in all.

Price for the phone and startup - accomplished by dialing an 800 number - is $29.95. Then, US WEST charges $19.95 for a flat 15 minutes per month of air time, and 39 cents for each additional minute.

"Basically, we are entering a new era of cellular phoning in which we have eliminated a lot of the barriers for people who want to participate," said John Griffith, area general manager for US WEST Cellular in Utah and Idaho.

Griffith compares the Talk Along to the Canon Sure Shot automatic camera of the early 1980s that made 35mm photography avail-able to anyone at the push of a button, no skill required.

"The Sure Shot took the industry by storm; it was simple, inexpensive and easy to use. That's a good description of Talk Along," said Griffith.

The main selling points of the new system, said Griffith, are that customers simply buy it off the shelf in a box and are not required to sign up for a long-term commitment.

"You just buy it, use it, and if you decide you don't like it you send it back. No penalties, no hidden clauses." Moreover, he said, if buyers keep and use the phone for a year, they can then terminate the service and keep the phone, free of charge.

Talk Along users will receive their monthly charges on their credit card bill, not their phone bill, said Griffith, but US WEST will send a monthly list of calls made to allow verification.

For the $19.95 price Talk Along Metro calls may be made and taken on most of the Wasatch Front, from Ogden to Provo and from Tooele to Heber City. For $24.95 per month Talk Along Wanderer coverage allows users to use the phone anywhere in the United States and Canada where cellular service is available.

Griffith said Talk Along is geared toward people who want to keep a cell phone in their glove compartment or take along in a backpack, but don't expect to do a lot of phoning.

The Talk Along phone kit includes a battery that provides 95 minutes of talk time, a charger, how-to guide and accessories.