John B. Anderson, unemployed presidential candidate, was riding up Bridge Street in this small upstate city when a sign caught his eye. It was for the Presidential Music Shop.

"Did you see that?" he asked. "My ears just perked up. I thought I heard Hail to the Chief for a minute."

Anderson was joking. But there is little doubt that, 14 months after his independent presidential campaign ended, the former Illinois congressman is again hearing presidential music.

The sounds are faint. Nonetheless they are there. Anderson says he is "waiting and listening" and will continue to do so for months.

Meanwhile, he hears rumblings of interest in his candidacy that are inaudible to others.

He broadly hints at forming a third party and mounting another crusade against the two-party system.

"People are searching for something and they don't hear it in the traditional Democratic and Republican Party dialogue," he says. "So there is the potential for a great awakening."

Just as he did in 1980, Anderson finds this awakening most often on the nation's college campuses.

The students are his livelihood as well as his inspiration. Ever since he left his job as a commentator on a Chicago television station in October, he has made his living giving speeches, most on campuses, at $2,000 to $2,500 each.

"One has to make a little bit of a business out of this," he told one interviewer.

The crowds are large and enthusiastic. More than 700, for example, showed up to hear him one miserable snowy night at the State University College at Oswego. They greeted him as if he had won the presidency, not lost with only 6 percent of the vote.

Anderson, 59, was always the most unlikely of presidential candidates, a man with a conventional past as a Republican congressman, but an unconventional view of how to reach the White House.

A politician for much of his adult life, he is largely untouched by the realities or folkways of politics.

He doesn't tell political stories. He doesn't pal around with political cronies. He seems uninterested, unwilling or unable to cultivate political allies.

When his campaign ended, he didn't bother to telephone or write a letter of thanks to some of those who had worked closest with him. One former aide says he quit writing speeches for Anderson after the campaign when Anderson refused to pay him.

He has spent the last year in a kind of suspended limbo. He is relaxed and loose, a bit at loose ends.

His life, he says, "is rather free form. After living a rather restrained existence in Congress for 20 years, it's rather nice to do it your way."

He and his family moved back into their old home in Rockford, Ill., after the election. He became a twice-a-week commentator on WLS-TV in Chicago, and accepted brief teaching jobs at Stanford University and the University of Illinois, his alma mater.

Last summer, his family moved back to Bethesda. Anderson rejoined them in late October when his TV job ended. He had become frustrated with television, and unwilling to devote more commentaries to local issues as the station management wanted, he says.

"It was time to move on."

The headquarters of his National Unity Campaign remains open in a small suite in downtown Washington. Faded campaign posters and snapshots from the campaign hang on the wall. A hand-printed sign says: "Don't Blame Me. I Voted for Anderson."

"It all ended too soon," his wife, Keke, says as she glances about.

Every other month, the old campaign puts out a newsletter called "An Independent View." It carries a quotation from Edmund Burke on its masthead: "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

The newsletter asks for donations and quotes from Anderson speeches, reports on his activities and comments on his favorite subjects -- the Equal Rights Amendment, nuclear disarmament, gun control, the environment and world hunger.

In it, Anderson is always on the move.

The July issue reported: "In the last two months alone, JBA has visited a dozen states from Maine to California, given 22 major speeches, appeared at 10 meetings with 1980 campaign workers, attended 8 college commencements, received 6 honorary degrees and chalked up 40,000 miles of air travel."

Anderson now travels without the trappings of the campaign. Gone are the aides, the bag carriers, the press, the private plane, nicknamed Rocinate, after Don Quixote's horse.

But the celebrity status lingers. Three TV cameras greeted him when he arrived in Syracuse en route to Oswego, located on the shores of Lake Ontario.

The hall where he spoke was packed. Students flocked to seek Anderson's autograph and opinions.

He gladly gave both. The students loved it. "He's a real bargain," said one on the committee that invited him. "We got him for $2,500. Abbie Hoffman wanted $3,000, and who is he anyway?"

A sample of what Anderson had to say:

On David Stockman (who once worked for Anderson in the House): "He exposed the intellectual ferment of the administration, if there was one, as an utterly hollow thing.... His confessions don't read like the confessions of St. Augustine. They really sound like the confessions of George Washington Plunkett, who, whenever he was caught dead to rights in wrongdoing, explained it all away by saying, 'Well, I simply saw my opportunities and took 'em.'"

On Reagan's plans to increase defense spending, but taxes and balance the budget at the same time: "The only way you could do it was through sleight of hand, through mirrors. Now those mirrors are cracked. The intellectual foundation for Reagan economics has come tumbling down."

On "the Reagan revolution": "If you consult Webster's New Collegiate dictionary you find the first meaning given for the word revolution is 'the action by a celestial body going around an orbit or elliptic course.' That sounds like a pretty good description of the Reagan administration attempts to run circles around this country."

On why his independent campaign failed, Anderson says he started too late, didn't put out a platform early enough, and should have "devised a better style of communications so people could carry away a more distinct impression of what I was saying."

He says the fact that he raised $17.5 million from almost 225,000 contributors and got on the ballots of all 50 states proved "there is considerable interest in trying to find an alternative to the two parties."

If he runs in 1984 it will be with a third party.

"I don't think an independent candidacy would succeed," he said in an interview. "You have to have the kind of realignment that is occurring in Great Britain. An independent candidacy has the air of the quixotic" and "will of the wisp" about it.

"I have no real compulsion to run again," he added. "I would not undertake it unless I thought I had a reasonable chance of success."

Anderson thinks it is still possible. The Democrats "haven't provided a creditable opposition" to Reagan, and by the end of 1982 "disillusionment" with Reagan "may be very great," he says.

If so, John B. Anderson is ready and waiting.

Meanwhile, he is thoroughly enjoying himself. His pace is unhurried, his manner relaxed, his schedule not demanding.

The night after his college speech here he took a five-hour train trip to New York City.

Dozens of people wished him good luck.

An artist offered to paint his picture.

The engineer invited him to ride in his cab.

But the realities of politics also were evident.

One man sat beside him for 30 minutes, not recognizing him. When Anderson left the seat at one point, the fellow passenger was asked if he knew who he had been sitting beside. He was told John Anderson.

Who? he asked.

"John Anderson. He ran for president."

"I thought there was something familiar about him," he replied. "Ran for president. Oh, yes. That was in 1976, wasn't it?"