Ted Venetoulis, a former Baltimore County executive who ran unsuccessfully for governor of Maryland eight years ago, has sold his suburban Baltimore newspapers and has purchased a bankrupt city magazine in San Francisco.

The switch from newspaper mogul to magazine publisher does not come as a surprise to those who know Venetoulis, an engaging, colorful political commentator who has earned a reputation as a shrewd businessman with "the Midas touch."

The challenge facing Venetoulis, 50, is to turn the bankrupt San Francisco Magazine into a vibrant, lucrative publication in the face of stiff competition from another city magazine, San Francisco Focus, with a circulation of approximately 180,000.

San Francisco Magazine had about 26,000 subscribers when it was last published in July 1985.

Although many of his business ties will now be on the West Coast, Venetoulis said he will stay in Baltimore.

He said he is looking around "for acquisitions and properties in the media business in the region." He refused to elaborate.

The former politician was given the nickname "TV Teddy" during his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1978 because of his flamboyant campaign and his emphasis on media coverage. The nickname stuck, however, partly because he hosts a Baltimore television show on public affairs.

He entered the newspaper business five years ago when he bought the Towson Times, in that Baltimore suburb, for $10,000.

He later added three more suburban newspapers to his publishing empire, called Times Publishing Group Inc.

Last week Venetoulis sold the four newspapers, with a total circulation of 110,000, to Susan Souders Obrecht, a company employe, and Dennis J. Shaughnessy, president of CRI International Inc.

Although Venetoulis will not disclose how much he was paid, media experts say it was millions of dollars.

He said the sale of the newspapers is unrelated to his purchasing San Francisco Magazine.

"I had a phenomenal offer and I accepted the offer," he said.

Recently, he and a group of partners made an offer to buy the now-defunct News American, owned by the Hearst Corp., which a media analyst estimated was losing at least $500,000 a month.

Venetoulis said that offer was$1 million in cash and a percentage of the profits and required Hearst to put up some working capital. Hearst rejected the offer and announced last month it was closing the daily because it could not find a buyer.

Venetoulis and his partners paid $250,000 for San Francisco Magazine at a bankruptcy auction last month, he said. The previous owner had paid $3.5 million to buy it, according to Venetoulis.

"He's starting out behind the eight ball and making it, that's tough," said Zeke Orlinsky, the publisher of Patuxent Publishing Corp., a group of suburban Baltimore newspapers, who has known Venetoulis for several years.

"He's an aggressive, charismatic individual . . . . Can he pull it off out there? I don't know," said Ken Berents, a media analyst with the securities firm of Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. in Baltimore.

Venetoulis is confident he can turn the magazine around.

"Obviously, I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think we didn't have a shot at doing it," he said.