What do a sports chat team, an FM talk star, and an old-school Boston radio host have in common? If they're Dennis and Callahan of WEEI-AM (850), Jay Severin of WTKK-FM (96.9), and Howie Carr of WRKO-AM (680), they are all members of the 2007 "Heavy Hundred," an honor bestowed by the industry trade journal Talkers Magazine .
"We work on this all year," says Michael Harrison , the editor of the Springfield-based magazine, about the feature. The list, which has run annually since 1995, features brief profiles and photos of popular, influential, or just plain entertaining talk-show hosts from around the country. Published in the February issue, along with an additional 150 names to make up the "Talkers 250," the feature can be read online at talkers.com.
This is only the second year, says Harrison, that the top 100 have been ranked. Carr, the top-rated of the three Boston names on the list, came in at No. 50. His politics- and issues-oriented show airs Monday through Thursday, 3-7 p.m., and Friday, 3-6 p.m. Severin, who competes with Carr over much of the same subject matter and the 3-7 p.m. weekday time slot, finished at No. 66. "We're really proud of Jay," says Phil Redo , market manager for Greater Media Boston, which owns WTKK. "He represents the next generation of talk hosts. He's smart, engaging, and local." Boston's other entry, the weekday 5:30-10 a.m. sports and politics team of John Dennis and Gerry Callahan , edged onto the list at 93.
As these three demonstrate, the entire top 100 covers a range of styles, with politics dominating the mix. "We try to create a snapshot of the industry," says Harrison. "We try to put together a list that reflects the diverse elements in a ratio to the whole."
The conservative Rush Limbaugh is ranked No. 1 , "just because of his ratings," says Harrison. But progressive talk-host Stephanie Miller also makes the list, at No. 36 , and even the occasional public radio host, such as NPR's Diane Rehm , appears, at No. 91 . "One would get the impression that all of talk radio is conservative politics, but we know that is not true," says Harrison. "We've always seen the business as more than one style."
Just to be named one of the Heavy Hundred, says Harrison, is an honor. Talk radio, he says, "is more competitive now" than it was when he started compiling the list. "It's a more mature industry. There's more money in it. It's a very well-established corporate business."
Even with the competition, says Harrison, Boston will probably always be well represented. "Boston is a great talk-radio market," he says. "It has great material and tremendous history. Because it has colorful politics, colorful sports, local personalities, and a sense of localism, Boston is one of the best markets for talk radio in America . . . and the Heavy Hundred is about local as well as syndicated talk."
Asked to explain the particular Boston picks, Harrison is quick to answer. " 'EEI is perhaps the most successful pound-for-pound sports talk station in America," he says. "Therefore its morning team should be on the Heavy Hundred. Severin has established himself as a highly rated major figure. He was syndicated across the country and chose to go back to Boston. And Howie Carr is . . . the heir to the great local characters that have marked Boston radio over the years." Harrison names Jerry Williams and Gene Burns as examples. Carr, he notes, "is in that tradition."