Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The "Talkers 250"

Yesterday, noted radio industry trade publication Talkers Magazine released its annual list of the top 250 talk show hosts in the country. And once again, the list will likely leave many scratching their heads.

Now, keep in mind that the Talkers annual list is not scientific, and to their credit, the editorial staff doesn't claim it to be. They claim the selection process is indeed "subjective with the goal being to create a list reflective of the industry's diversity and total flavor as well as giving credit where credit is due."

Involved in the compilation of this list are both "hard and soft factors" including (in alphabetical order) courage, effort, impact, longevity, potential, ratings, recognition, revenue, service, talent and uniqueness. And they acknowledge that this is not a perfect process and that the results are arguable.

So, about this list. The usual suspects are found at the top of the list. Limbaugh, Hannity and Savage hold down the top three positions (no surprise there). Dr. Laura Schlessinger seems to have pleased the editors as her show has slowly risen from near-dead status over the past few years.

At number five is Ed Schultz, obviously given credit for his dominance of the liberal talk format. Other talkers often found on liberal talk stations that make an appearance in the "Heavy Hundred" portion of the list include Randi Rhodes (#13), Alan Colmes (#16), Lionel (#23), Stephanie Miller (#36), Bev Smith (#37), and Thom Hartmann (#51).

Below the top 100 are 150 other hosts, listed in no order whatsoever. Some names of note include Air America Radio's Jon Elliott, Mike Malloy, KKZN/Denver's Jay Marvin, former WWKB/Buffalo host Leslie Marshall, The Young Turks, KGO/San Francisco's Bernie Ward, and Sam Greenfield and Armstrong Williams of Air America Radio's flagship station, WWRL in New York.

NPR has a couple names on the list, including morning host Diane Rehm (#91) and Terry Gross (unranked).

Al Franken, who was ranked in the top 20 last year, is not on the list, likely due to his intended departure from radio. Talkers Magazine excluded anyone who's show was not on the air at press time. This would also include finance guru Jim Cramer, who ended his radio show in December and even Phil Hendrie, who left radio last year. As for Marshall, who left WWKB a few weeks ago, her departure was probably after the compilation of this list.

But what does all of this really mean anyway? This list will likely spark many, many arguements. I'll go along with the top three picks, even though I don't particularly like them. Truth be told, they do dominate the medium of talk radio (for better or worse). They've got many affiliates and a great deal of pull in the business. Hey, it's reality. After that, it gets a bit ridiculous.

I'll go along with Schultz at #5 (though I'm sure many conservative talk fans will beg to differ). In the past year, he's moved to the forefront of a young and rapidly growing niche, namely liberal/progressive talk. I'm a bit skeptical of the placement of other talk hosts. For one, why is Colmes even in the top 20? Granted, he's a competent host with many years of radio experience. And while many on the left regard him as a bit of a wuss, he realizes that talk radio is really about entertainment, and in that regard does a decent job. Still, is he really that much of a presence on the radio? While neither Colmes nor FOX really publish a list of his affiliates, his show is a bit hard to find on the dial in many markets. And he's nowhere to be found in this country's largest markets. Miller, who's way down at (#36), behind a few obscure local talkers and guys like Lars Larson and the obnoxious Mancow (#11), who lost his Chicago flagship last year, in addition to several other key affiliates. Hell, Mancow is one position ahead of the guy he's shamelessly imitated over the years - Howard Stern. Granted, Stern is exclusively on Sirius now, but the guy still has serious pull in the industry. At least more pull than Mancow. Likely, the creators of this list took into account punditry work on the cable news channels. But we are talking radio here, right?

What's really a crime is that Hartmann, who's show has done extremely well in several large markets and has been growing at a pretty rapid pace over the past year, is ranked below the likes of the Satellite Sisters and G. Gordon Liddy. Perhaps they forgot to add 'pulling names out of a hat' to the criteria used in compiling this list.

In all fairness, LTR did its own list at the end of last year, ranking the top ten talkers of 2006. And much of the same criteria that Talkers Magazine utilized was used. Yes, it was subjective, but tried not to reflect any personal bias. I also gave detailed reasons for why the particular host ranked where he/she did, which Talkers doesn't. Did the LTR list create controversy? You bet. Some people thought I had lost my mind with some of the choices (Schultz at #1 created the most outcry, as did the omission of Sam Seder). In all fairness, a reader-compiled list was also included.

Basically, the Talkers Magazine list is a bit suspect, and not to be taken overly seriously. If your favorite host isn't on the list (where the hell is Rachel Maddow?), or if they're excluded to make room for someone like KTLK-FM's Jason Lewis (who, in the most recent Minneapolis/St. Paul ratings book, got crushed in his afternoon timeslot by the local 1,000 watt Air America affiliate), then fret not. This list appears to be for amusement purposes only. Don't lose sleep over it.


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