I used MDF because it's flat, I followed some youtube videos as well as buying the book by Wally Kunkel called How to Master the Radial Arm saw. He's also referred to as "Mr Sawdust" and the table he suggests is often referred to as the Mr Sawdust Table. It involves cutting some grooves in the two pieces of ply or MDF and epoxying some flat bar into the grooves so the table can't ever warp. It also gives you a set of three pieces that can be moved around for different jobs and tasks. It was a bit of work but in my opinion well worth it.
You didn't mention what RAS saw you had from Sears. Only the 8"-10" saws had recalls and as I understand it, it was based on the fact that they were originally sold without lower blade guards. Other than not having lower guards the saws are fine. They aren't offering the kits anymore, just $50 to basically scrap it.
I've got the Craftsman 12" saw and I love it. There are a bunch of accessories for the saw that allow you to mold, sand, plane, and joint so it can be a very versatile. The accessories are available at very reasonable prices on eBay from time to time. I can take cheap rough cut lumber from the mill, joint one edge straight, rip it down to size, plane it to the thickness I need, put a decorative mold on one edge and then sand it to a paint ready smoothness all with the one machine.
Google "Mr Sawdust Table" or just start with this one:
Also: Read up on "negative hook" saw blades. It's really, really important if you are going to rip that you have a negative hook saw blade. They greatly reduce the odds of a kickback and IMHO a lot of the horror stories you hear about RASs are from people who put table saw blades on a RAS and then tried to rip. Not correct, not OK and not surprising they had a kickback.
Table saw blades are designed to push the wood down into the table while cutting, that's great and safe on a table saw and it's even OK on a RAS that is cross cutting because it pushed the wood into the fence. When you're ripping that table saw blade will be trying to LIFT the wood which is where the danger comes in. A negative hook blade will direct the force horizontally back through the wood to the edge that is being pushed instead of up.