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 achievement.

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.”

The 25 Greatest Radio
Talk Show Hosts of All Time

1. Rush Limbaugh
2. Howard Stern
3. Don Imus
4. Larry King
5. Sally Jessy Raphael
6. Bruce Williams
7. Dr. Laura Schlessinger
8. Barry Gray
9. Barry Farber
10. Dr. Joy Browne
11. Michael Jackson
12. Art Bell
13. Ronn Owens
14. Jerry Williams
15. Neil Rogers
16. Bob Grant
17. Long John Nebel
18. David Brudnoy
19. Arthur Godfrey
20. Bill Ballance
21. Neal Boortz
22. J.P. McCarthy
23. Jean Shepherd
24. Gene Burns
25. G. Gordon Liddy

The 25 Greatest Television
Talk Show Hosts of All Time

1. Larry King
2. Johnny Carson
3. Oprah Winfrey
4. Phil Donahue
5. David Letterman
6. Jay Leno
7. Bill O’Reilly
8. Ted Koppel
9. Merv Griffin
10. Regis Philbin
11. Sally Jessy Raphael
12. Jack Paar
13. Tom Snyder
14. Steve Allen
15. Arthur Godfrey
16. Charlie Rose
17. Katie Couric
18. Jerry Springer
19. Dick Cavett
20. David Susskind
21. Joe Pyne
22. Mike Douglas
23. Tim Russert
24. Morton Downey, Jr.
25. Hannity & Colmes


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