Relationships expert Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who never heard a caller she couldn't make feel guilty, is the most-listened-to radio host in America.

And you know whose fault that is, don't you?

The tough-love advice dispenser is heard coast-to-coast by an average of 18 million-plus masochists every week, according to a new survey by Talkers, a trade magazine for the radio industry. (Actually, the mag uses the word "listeners" not "masochists" but same difference.)

Playing No. 2 to Dr. Laura's No. 1: Howard Stern. The King of All Media holds court with 17.5 million fans weekly, the mag says.

As Stern correctly pointed out on Tuesday's show, he reaches his millions through 40 radio stations nationwide; Schlessinger through 250-plus.

But the party who really feels wronged by the survey is the guy who stands at No. 3: Rush Limbaugh.

The conservative know-it-all, whose star presumably should be ascending while nemesis President Clinton's descends, has lost 2.25 million listeners in the last year--"down" to a still-mammoth 17.25 million, the magazine reports.

Of course, the real pain in those numbers are not the numbers themselves, but the ranking. Limbaugh and his self-proclaimed Excellence in Broadcasting unit have been used to top-dog status in the 1990s. Not No. 3 status. (This is, in fact, the first Talkers survey in six years in which Limbaugh did not set the standard.)

In today's New York Daily News, Limbaugh's spokesperson contends that the boss really is still No. 1.

A recent report in Radio & Records, another trade mag, showed Limbaugh with 17 million weekly listeners--and that was based on an incomplete tally of his radio outlets, Kit Carson told the newspaper. When all stations--and listeners--are accounted for, Limbaugh is drawing an audience closer to "18 to 18.5 million," Carson said.

Michael Harrison, the editor of Talkers, isn't buying.

"Interest in straight political talk peaked with the 1994 congressional elections," Harrison tells the Daily News.

He tells the paper that Schlessinger and Stern are the ones really driving the dial these days. Dr. Laura picked up 2.5 million listeners in the last year; Stern picked up new affiliates, even expanding north to Canada.

And here's one final stat for Stern fans: Show foe Don Imus ranked No. 6 in the Talkers survey, with 7.5 million weekly listeners, safely buried by Howard.

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