|Although we tend to think of talk radio as a relatively
modern-day format, having shown geometric growth over the past dozen
or so years - the fact is that talk shows go all the way back to
the beginning of the medium more than 80 years ago. The first documented
radio shows were conversations between farmers about the state of
agriculture. They were talk shows.
The same holds true for our perception of talk television and our
talk media industry’s current fascination with the emerging
genre of cable news-talk. Talk shows on TV go back a half century
to the infancy of the medium and although modern day talk radio
rightfully takes credit for inspiring the new brand of popular cable-television
talk shows, an academic view of the bigger picture indicates that
modern talk radio was significantly inspired by pioneers of TV talk
way back in the 1950s and 60s.
Taking into account the massive scope of the universe tackled here,
the TALKERS magazine editorial staff faced a huge challenge in picking
a list of the 25 greatest “talk show hosts” of all time
in both radio and television.
To create a list of the 25 Greatest Radio and Television Talk Show
Hosts of All Time we had to look at the entire history of radio
and television or it would be both unfair and invalid.
The first question to arise - what is the criteria by which these
names are selected and put in order of greatness?
The answer - a subjective-but-educated determination of talent,
longevity, success, creativity, originality and impact on both the
broadcasting industry and society in general. These pages contain
the names of those individuals who have really made a serious difference
in the industry as well as our nation and culture.
The second big question - what exactly determines the definition
of talk show host?
That’s a tough one. We decided to open it up to a broad interpretation
that covers everything in radio from traditional issues-oriented
telephone talk to the so-called shock jock genre, including specialty
talkers of any number of ilks.
In television, we included today’s cable news-talkers, morning
news/chat show interview hosts, serious news program interviewers,
roundtable conversation show hosts and even the late night entertainment/variety
style of personality.
Of course we cannot deny the fact that TALKERS magazine approaches
the wide world of talk media from the perspective of news/talk radio
and we do so with a heavy emphasis on the present and future. That’s
why most of the people on the lists are contemporary figures. This
is our bias as a trade publication because that is the majority
of our professional constituency’s chief concern.
However, we also maintain a healthy respect for the past, in so
far as knowledge of it is a tool in making sense of the events of
today and tomorrow. The result is the inclusion of such legends
as Arthur Godfrey, Long John Nebel, and Jean Shepard who rightfully
belong in these pages, too.
Our ongoing coverage of the greater talk show business spokes out
in many directions from that news/talk radio hub to include all
kinds of radio and television, the Internet, show business and beyond.
That is why late night entertainment/variety talkers such as Dick
Cavett, Jack Paar and Steve Allen are on the list - but it is our
ultimate adherence to studying the relationship between talk radio
and television that guided our choice of Larry King and not Johnny
Carson as the greatest television talk show host of all time.
Interestingly, three of our legends appear on both lists - Larry
King, Sally Jessy Raphael and Arthur Godfrey - a most noteworthy
Although our business is to categorize and define movements and
schools within an almost chaotic set of evolving scenes, we firmly
grasp that the boundaries between talk show and talk host genres
is abstract and quite porous. That everything in media is related
and that public perceptions, moods and opinions are prone to change.
That’s why someone like Ted Koppel, whom some might not consider
a talk show host, per se, (but rather a TV “news reporter”)
is on the list as one of the greatest talk show hosts of all time.
No doubt, these lists will spark controversy - which should be both
stimulating and fun. Our hope is that it will instigate a national
discussion about the colorful and rich history of talk media, which
will prove both educational and good for business.
During these debates, many names that arguably deserve to be on
these lists will come up and be examined. Names like Les Crane,
Bryant Gumbel, Dr. Dean Edell, Bob Collins, Conan O’ Brien,
David Frost, Irv Homer, Tom Joyner, Jim Rome and so many more. Perhaps,
10 years from now, we’ll make it the greatest “50.”