Top Paid Talkers: The Gift of Gab

Glenn Beck, Ellen DeGeneres, Howard Stern (Photo: Getty Images)

Glenn Beck, Ellen DeGeneres, Howard Stern (Photo: Getty Images)

Talk ain’t cheap!

In fact, it’s pretty darned lucrative.  Forbes magazine has compiled a list of the highest-earning talking heads on TV and radio – just 13 personalities whose annual earnings add up to just under $1 billion.

Who’s on top?  Oprah Winfrey at $315 million.   

It’s a fascinating list that takes into account what these professional yakkers take in not just from their day-job salaries, but from all of their various side businesses ranging from books and production deals to high-paying endorsement gigs.

That’s the big difference between this Forbes list and a list compiled earlier this month by TV Guide, which seemed to focus almost entirely on annual salaries.  It turns out those figures were a mere pittance compared to what some of these jaw-flappin’ chatmeisters really make.

Another difference: The Forbes list implies a fairly wide definition of the term “talking head,” including some who you might not generally associate with talk TV or radio, such as Simon Cowell (2nd, with $80 million), Donald Trump (8th, $50 million) and Judge Judy Sheindlin (10th, tied with David Letterman at $45 million).  

Nevertheless, it’s clear that no matter who’s doing it, money talks! 

Behold – some of the list’s most fascinating findings:

Who’s the king of late-night?  It’s not Jay Leno (12th on the list) when you’re talking about earnings.  He’s up to $35 million a year, but his NBC rival, Conan O’Brien (11th), took in $38 million when you count the $32 million payout he got from NBC for leaving the network (plus his new salary at TBS).  And David Letterman (9th)?  He’s up to $45 million because, unlike Jay Leno, Dave’s production company produced shows like ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ from which Dave rakes in millions in syndication money.

Glenn Beck is cable talk’s highest earner.  Yes, Glenn Beck (13th, tied with Jay Leno).  He’s the only one of the brash cable talkers on the Forbes list, earning $35 million from his Fox News Channel show ($2 million), radio ($10 million), bestselling books, speaking engagements and other money-making ventures.

Howard Stern (4th) is the king of radio and he’s not technically on the radio – he’s on satellite radio, for which he gets paid $70 million a year.  Rush Limbaugh (5th), who’s heard on hundreds of radio stations, earns $58.5 million.  Fun fact about these two, if you’re astrologically minded: Stern, 56, and Limbaugh, 59, have the same birthday – Jan. 12.

How do you get rich in showbiz?  Diversify!  Ellen DeGeneres (6th) and Ryan Seacrest (7th) are living proof.  TV Guide said Ellen earns $8 million from her talk show, but Forbes puts her annual take at $55 million, factoring in $10 million for working as an ‘American Idol‘ judge, commercial endorsements (American Express, CoverGirl, Vitamin Water) and other ventures.  Seacrest ($51 million) hosts ‘Idol,’ produces shows for E!, handles a daily radio show in L.A. and also does commercials (Coke, Microsoft’s Bing and others).

What do you think of all the money these talking heads generate?  Is it too much?  Or does it have you wishing you’d enrolled in broadcasting school?

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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