Chief executives in the beverage and tobacco industries were as a group the highest-paid CEOs at the nation's biggest companies, according to a list compiled by Forbes magazine.

The survey released Monday ranks by 1988 compensation the chief executives of the nation's 800 largest public companies.CEOs at beverage and tobacco companies earned a median $1.51 million, followed by chief executives in communications and media and CEOs of financial service companies, who dropped to third place after three years in first, Forbes says in its May 29 issue.

The $1.51 million median compensation of the 10 beverage and tobacco CEOs in the survey was up 30 percent from 1987, Forbes said.

The median is the level where half the executives earned more and half earned less. Compensation includes salary, bonuses and long-term earnings such as gains from the exercise of stock options.

Median compensation was $1.47 million for the communications and media chieftains, $1.34 million for the financial services bosses, $1.32 million food-processing chiefs, and $1.30 million for CEOs of surface transportation companies.

Lowest-paid on the list were chief executives of electric utilities, whose median compensation was $441,000, considerably behind the second-to-last CEOs of food distributors, at $589,000.

Business Week magazine released a similar survey last month that included top bosses other than chief executives. Forbes said its survey covers many chief executives that Business Week did not list.

Forbes and Business Week agreed that Michael D. Eisner of Walt Disney Co. was the nation's highest-paid CEO last year, with total compensation of $40.1 million. But Forbes gave second place to Steven J. Ross of Warner Communications Inc. at $14.2 million.