The Kidd stays in the picture

Who is your favorite local radio personality?
Posted 10:23pm on Tuesday, Nov. 01, 2011

It's about 10 a.m., and the Kidd Kraddick in the Morning radio show is done for the day. But Kraddick isn't finished. He is taping a segment with an up-and-coming singer named Cady Groves, a 22-year-old who is so young-looking that she will probably still be getting carded when she is 50. Kraddick peppers Groves with questions, with occasional interjections from his compadres Kellie Rasberry, Big Al Mack and the rest of the radio show's cast. Groves regales them with funny, FCC-unfriendly stories about her foul-mouthed, much-married, Virginia Slims-smoking, slot machine-loving mother.

None of this is airing live on the radio, which is where Kraddick has made his mark as the No. 1 morning personality in DFW for years. It's being filmed at the Canalside Lounge, in the Kidd Kraddick Studios in Las Colinas. It will be seen on KiddNation.com, and KiddTV, where video of his show appears every day on the Web. You'll also find it on his Facebook fan page, which has more than 400,000 "likes" and on his Twitter feed (twitter.com/kiddkraddick), which is approaching 80,000 followers.

When it does air on the radio, it will be heard well beyond Dallas-Fort Worth. Kidd is syndicated in 70 markets and counting.

At a time when radio's reach is fading and the media landscape is constantly shifting and crumbling beneath his feet, Kraddick's voice seems stronger and more relevant than ever. Like any DJ, he has an almost pathological need to be heard. He has built an empire around it. And whether he's chatting up young celebrities like Selena Gomez or Bruno Mars, dishing on reality TV or talking about his personal stuff with his long-standing morning team, you can bet he's being heard -- on car radios during the hellish commute in Dallas or Grapevine, on office computers as cubicle dwellers try to jump-start their days or on cellphones in high-school parking lots.

"Going up against Kidd is like going up against the Yankees," says KLUV/98.7 FM's Jody Dean, who's been in the market even longer than Kraddick. "That lineup, that tradition, that consistency -- he is the big dog in the market, and he's earned it.... I think it's that he has that thing that you can't teach, that basic likability that comes through on the air, and people can sense it."

Sure, he's taken heat for being too sensitive and sentimental; and for being insensitive and too irreverent. He's been criticized for doing a syndicated show that isn't "local." And skeptics question how long a guy in his 50s can keep airing on a station that targets teen-agers and 20-somethings. But anybody who has listened to Kraddick over the years knows that he has that one essential quality. He knows how to connect, with teens and their parents; 20-somethings and 50-somethings.

What they might not know, however, is that Kraddick saw the sea changes in his industry coming long before others did -- and he adapted better than most.

"I've stuck around because I think that in at least a small way I'm fostering change," he says. "I had a hunch that radio would become more like TV and Internet. That the end-user would choose their entertainment based on the quality of the show and their passion for it, not how close it happens to be to their house."

Mack, the easygoing sidekick to Kraddick's pop-rocks personality for 16 years, says the Kidd has stayed in the picture by always being two steps ahead.

"Kidd told me about MySpace and was probably on MySpace before I even knew what MySpace was," says Mack. "He was on Facebook and Twitter and all those other things that he got us all to be a part of.... Now you can't go a day without hearing the word Facebook, or 'status update.' It's just a part of the fabric of our lives now, and he saw that."

The birth of a DJ

Of course, Twitter and Facebook, Pandora and Spotify were not even a germ of an idea in a techno-geek's head when a kid named Dave Cradick (long before his last name morphed to better match "Kidd") was making DJ tapes at his homemade station WJAN. He named it for the sister he adored.

"She won every contest, and every request was from her," says Kraddick, who grew up in the Tampa, Fla., area. "I'd make these tapes for her, and I feel bad for her now, because she had to listen to them in her car, and I'd be like, 'Did you play it for your friends?' I was so bad, talking in this DJ voice.

"I did that for a couple of years. I basically did like a three-hour shift every day, making these cassettes for her. I had a wicker basket filled with them."

It wasn't that long before Kraddick landed his first few gigs at stations in Tampa, Fresno, Salt Lake and Los Angeles. He even did some emceeing at comedy clubs in L.A., introducing the likes of Sam Kinison and Paul Reiser before they became stars.

But when Kraddick arrived here in 1984 for his first DFW job interview, he heard about another star. The cabdriver talked his ear off about radio legend Ron Chapman, and it was then that Kraddick realized how important it was to own a market.

Kraddick puts forth a nice-guy persona, but that doesn't mean he isn't competitive. He even sounds nice when he's talking about being competitive.

"I watched Chapman from afar for a long time, and then finally got the guts to call him up," Kraddick says. "He was the big dog. And he was so much older than me, I thought I could never walk up to him and have a conversation. And then I got to KISS and started seeing, 'Wow, he's kinda on the back end, and I've kinda got the momentum.' It was almost disrespectful to think about beating him, because I admired him so much."

Kraddick, so synonymous with morning radio now, actually began his DFW journey at night, doing the evening shift at KEGL/97.1 FM "The Eagle" when it was still a Top 40 station. He says he was never more popular than he was at night, and a current morning rival backs that up.

"A lot of people don't remember it now, but he really was a sensation back when the nighttime DJs were hosting what sounded like an online party," says KSCS/96.3 FM's Mark "Hawkeye" Louis, who says he listened to Kraddick in college and considers him a role model. "He just really set the tone at night, and that really established him in this market."

Kraddick says this is the only time he had what he calls "boy-band" popularity as a DJ. And he says it was an important step toward his becoming a morning personality.

"Nighttime has always been the training ground for mornings. Not afternoons, not middays," Kraddick says. "Because the younger audience, the teen audience has always been more tolerant of talk, if you're talking about things that they care about.... I went into a skating rink once in Sulphur Springs, and I was so mad because I had on my cool Miami Vice outfit, and they basically ripped my clothes off. I never looked much better than this. I never looked like a Jonas brother. But it didn't matter, because I connected with them somehow, and they thought of me as one of them."

But Kraddick wanted to talk more. He didn't know how much, but he wanted to talk more than the Eagle was letting him talk at night. So he used his ratings clout at the Eagle to move to afternoons, and then to mornings, where he could do more talking.

"You think of people's mindsets coming off of work, they've been talking all day, or being talked at all day -- and they want to decompress," he says. "Mornings are the opposite. Mornings are when people want human contact. It jump-starts you. I would never consider afternoons [again], unless it was a personal decision that things worked better for me. But I would never convince myself that it's a more compelling time to be on. If you want to make a connection with people, do it in the morning."

In 1992, the Eagle dropped its Top 40 format, played Hotel California nearly 700 times straight, and resurfaced as a hard-rock station. Kraddick found himself off the air for eight months before landing the morning gig at KISS, then a fledgling Top 40 station.

"I was under contract with the Eagle for another two years," Kraddick says. "A really good contract that paid me a lot of money. And KISS didn't have any money. And I wanted that job so bad that I told the Eagle to tear up that contract. I basically took a two-thirds pay cut. Instead of sitting at home and getting paid, I decided to go work and make one-third of what I would make sitting at home. It's the best decision I ever made."

Cast of characters

Like many high-energy on-air personalities, Kraddick stands throughout his show, running a control board while producer Shanon Murphy (who has been with the show since she was a 17-year-old intern) quietly keeps things in order. When Kraddick says he has ADD, he is not saying it casually -- he takes Aderall, which he says helps him focus, but he credits his executive producer, Robert Ehrman, with keeping him on track.

"I don't know if you noticed, but I have a timer up above me [in the studio], and I've got IM going on down here," Kraddick says. "For an ADD guy, it's like a pinball machine. I'll start a thought, and it frustrates people. I was a Ritalin kid. I was ADD when ADD wasn't cool. I actually went off meds for a long, long time, and I kinda needed 'em again. They've enhanced my life, they've made me more focused."

Rasberry, Kraddick's longtime foil and "on-air wife," has a separate but adjacent booth to Kidd's, decorated with pictures of her young daughter, Emma Kelly. On the outside of the control board, mikes and computer screens handy, sits longtime sidekick Big Al Mack and younger cast members Jenna Owens (the most recent addition, and she's been there three years) and Jose "J-Si" Chavez.

Rasberry sums up the cast in one paragraph:

"Al's just like a kind of go-with-the-flow kind of guy," she says. "Nothing sticks. He doesn't hold a grudge against anyone. J-Si's like a fifth-grader with that mentality, that sense of humor. Jenna is very stylish, young, hip and trendy. I could probably pull a little bit of that from her.... The danger with Jenna, when she first came on the show, was she was just as sarcastic as I was. If you have a room full of sarcastic people, especially two women, the only women on the show, there's gotta be some balance there. She had to kind of find her place, and I had to adjust my position, too."

Although the show occasionally flirts with the risqué, Kraddick's goal has been to keep it family-friendly. It's not a raucous, shock-value morning show; Kraddick wants listeners to think of the cast as friends, and like friends might do, they talk a lot about their personal lives.

Kraddick used to talk often about his daughter, Caroline, including her in a recurring feature called "Bath Time With Caroline." But when she grew up -- she's 21 -- he had to learn when and where to draw the line.

"[She] loved it," Kraddick says. "Loved it loved it loved it -- hated it. It was just natural to talk about her daily, and it went from being a badge of honor for her to a curse. And I figured it out, eventually. I mean, I did 'Bath Time With Caroline' for years, and she was a star of the show. So to give it up was hard."

As much as Kraddick has been willing to change and adapt to advancing technology (and his daughter's wishes), he also knows what not to change about his show.

He has been with Rasberry and Mack for more than a decade, but keeps the show youthful with personalities such as Chavez and Owens, who are in their 20s. "My philosophy has always been to put five or six really diverse people in a room," he says. "People that probably would not be friends in any other walk of life. And just let them talk, because that creates conflict, because when you have diversity, there's going to be conflict, and with conflict comes resolution. If you're naturally funny, which I look for in each person that we have, that solution will come in a humorous way, and I just let that happen and hit the commercial. That's about as simple as I can put it."

But even the cast can't quite explain why the show works. Rasberry says she believes it is because listeners can perceive the cast is real, if a little magnified.

Like reality TV, except on radio.

"[Reality TV stars] are like our kindred spirits, because they're a group of people with no discernible talent getting together, and people actually watch them," Kraddick says. "That's what we do. That's what I do every day. A group of untalented people -- I'm being facetious, but reality TV and morning radio are really similar. We all look for those situations in our personal lives that other people can relate to, and we exploit 'em. That's exactly what we do."

Chavez, a relative newcomer, says he didn't know how big Kraddick was when he first started working with him, and when he realized it, he began to feel intimidated. But it didn't last long.

"It kind of felt like the first day of high school; you come in, you're the new kid, you're gonna make friends, and it's one of those things that if you blend together correctly, it's gonna work out, and if you don't, then you gotta go," he says. "And with them, it works."

Being part of a work family that talks about its life on the radio has meant talking about some hard stuff as well. Neither Kraddick nor Rasberry talked about their divorces much, but they have talked about their dating lives. (Rasberry says she can tell when a guy's in it just to hear his name on the radio.) Mack's father is on dialysis. Murphy recently lost a beloved young nephew in a drowning accident.

"The privilege of working with the same people for so long comes with ... being there when they go through very hard times," Kraddick says. "I mean, we've kind of been through it. No more so than anybody else, probably, but our job's to talk about this stuff, so we've got to be on top of our feelings."

Youthful, not young

Kraddick and his show have been around so long that The Kidd is not a kid anymore.

There are constant reminders.

"I had this really cute girl come up to me at a golf tournament banquet or something," Kraddick says. "I caught her out of the corner of my eye; I could tell that she was about to approach me. And I was with a couple of the guys, and they were like, 'Wow, she's really cute.' And I said, 'Yeah, that's our fan base, that's our listeners!' And she came up and said; 'My mom is dying to meet you. Can I take you over to meet my mom?'"

Dean says Kraddick's cross-generational appeal is part of why he is such a formidable presence on morning radio here.

"He has a way of connecting with kids and their moms that you just don't see very often," Dean says. "Plus he's got that voice. For crying out lout, I'm the same age as he is, and you don't hear anybody calling me 'Kidd.' Kidd sounds youthful. He sounds young. He sounds energetic. He is. Forget the calendar; he is young and energetic, and he thinks young."

Kraddick -- who was given the "Kidd" nickname long ago by a program director at a station where a teen-age Kraddick was the youngest personality -- says that when he talks about a reality-TV star, he's genuinely interested in them, whether it is Kim Kardashian's marriage (and divorce) or Bravo's Rachel Zoe and her latest fashions.

"It's just how I am," he says. "I get asked pretty routinely, 'How do you win [ratings among] 18-24 females? How do you do that?' It's not anything calculated. I grew up in Florida, in an area where there's a real premium on youthfulness, on being young and acting young. It kinda comes naturally to me. Maybe I have some sort of retarded growth or something, but I like watching the Kardashians. I like things that are hip and cool. I love talking about the stuff I'm talking about."

Radio ratings across the board aren't what they used to be even 10 years ago, with all the increased competition from iTunes, websites such as Pandora and Spotify, and satellite radio. But Chavez says that the conventional wisdom that young people don't listen to traditional radio is just wrong.

"Just from going out to the 'younger' part of town, which is Dallas Uptown, I'd say the majority of the female listeners that come up to us are in their 20s or early 30s. I would say that young people do listen to the radio, and the kids in high school that we get e-mails from that say: 'We listen to the show on the way to school. And then we listen on our phones,' because they can now have phones somehow in school. There's people from 12 years old to 40 years old listening. Some people like their CDs, some people like their iPods. It just depends on if you want to be part of a family, because that's what this is."

Many DFW morning shows (not to mention entire stations) have come and gone since Kraddick made his KISS debut, but Kraddick says staying in the same place is important to keeping his audience. And he's had to resist attempts to change his show, or to move it to another station that targets an older demographic.

"It's really rare for radio," Kraddick says, "because usually someone will try to stick their fingers in the pot, doing back-seat driving on ratings that just came out and knee-jerking and saying, 'Oh, it's because this person's too old, or this person is not into it anymore,'" Kraddick says. "People in the past have come after some of my people. Or come after me and said, 'You've gotta get rid of this person or get rid of that person.' And to me, it's like a comfortable pair of shoes. They might not be as brand-new as they once were, but you love them, and if you don't have them, it's gonna be weird."

Independent by design

But then, unlike a lot of people in radio, Kraddick has designed things so that he doesn't have to listen when people try to tell him what to do.

In 2001, Kraddick took his show into syndication. Although it has aired on KISS-FM since 1993, it has been independent of the station since 2001, with its own studio in Las Colinas while the rest of KISS-FM airs out of the Clear Channel studios off Dallas North Tollway near the Galleria. Because the show is national, he says, it has some natural advantages.

"We are able to book bigger guests, have much larger contests and an overall budget that allows us to do things that local shows can't," he says. "It also enables us to retain our people, who because of our larger budgets, don't have to move to another city to make more money or move up the ladder."

Kraddick hasn't turned his back on KISS; in fact, he says the station (which has consistently been either No. 1 or close to the top for more than a decade) is responsible for a lot of his continued success. KISS' program director, Patrick Davis, used to work for Kraddick.

"I think it's symbiotic," Kraddick says. "They help us by being so strong after 10 a.m. Because we're not the type of show where everybody goes: 'Oh my God! Did you hear what they said this morning!?... So we depend on the stations to bring us that audience and have the radio set to that station at night, so that they wake up with us. That's a huge advantage."

By "stations," Kraddick is talking about the 70-plus stations his show airs on nationwide. He hasn't cracked top markets like New York or Chicago, but he's based in the No. 5 radio market in the country. He believes that going into syndication has helped him stick around.

"I kinda saw the writing on the wall ... that [syndication] was going to be the only path to survival," he says. "Because when one company can own multiple stations in a market, then there aren't that many employers. [KISS' owner, Clear Channel, owns five other DFW stations.] There's only two or three employers, even in a big city.... So as a personality, I just had an expectation that the pay scale was going to go way, way down. Because there's no competition in the marketplace. So the only way I could survive was to offer an inexpensive solution to other stations, less expensive and give them a relevant live morning show."

Many longtime radio fans lament how radio has become less "local." There's not only competition from outside forces, but even in a large market such as DFW, stations use voice-tracking and shows packaged for national distribution such as Ryan Seacrest's show that airs on KDMX/102.9 FM "The Mix" or Nikki Sixx's nighttime show that airs on the Eagle.

"A lot of my friends resisted that and didn't want to do what they thought was bastardizing their show and taking away the locality of their show," he says. "I've never had this thought that radio has to be local. In fact, my most memorable radio moments as a kid were ... lying in my bed with a radio that had a good antenna that I could listen to WLS in Chicago when I lived in Florida. So radio to me was never about being local. It's about being compelling and being interesting. So that's what I've always gone for."

KSCS' Louis says he doesn't think it matters for another reason.

"His show is designed so that there are parts where he can talk about stuff locally, so I don't think regular listeners realize that he is syndicated," Louis says. "I think it was a great move by him to do that. There was a huge financial risk. He basically started his own company. Instead of getting a regular paycheck, he started his own company. Most people in Dallas-Fort Worth don't realize how many markets Kraddick is in."

Kraddick declines to disclose how much he makes but says that because he's a small-business owner, it can be arbitrary. But even there, he has control.

"I decide how much it is, depending on our cash flow and how well the business is doing," he says. "As any small-business owner can tell you, it can fluctuate pretty wildly."

Kraddick calls the show a "boutique," saying that the number of stations it is on really isn't huge. But he did expect it to become bigger faster, and he's surprised he isn't on in more major markets. But then, he won't take just any time slot just to be on a new station. Kraddick has also resisted attempts to have the show moved to a less youth-driven format in DFW.

"Random consultants over time have said, 'If you moved him to [adult-contemporary station] Mix, then you could put a younger show on KISS, and you could get both [demographics],'" he says. "I think that's a little bit greedy. I've never assumed people will follow me to another station. I hope they would, but why tempt fate?"

The future

Despite Kraddick's talk about the importance of "local" being overrated on radio, he does want to stay true to DFW.

"This is the town that made me, and I will always have a local presence here, and I will always tell people: 'This is my home. This is where we live,'" Kraddick says. "On the network, people in Missoula, Mont., don't want to hear me go on and on about how great Dallas is, but we're now able to separate some of the content, so sometimes you'll hear things on KISS that you're not hearing on the rest of the network, such as talking about the Rangers winning a playoff series and those things that people locally really care about."

But there are reports that local radio might become even less local, especially on Clear Channel stations. Inside Music Media reported Oct. 27 that the previous day, Clear Channel had made more than 200 cuts nationwide, and more are expected. Chicago-based media reporter Robert Feder quoted Inside Music Media's Jerry Del Colliano as saying that, at its most drastic, Clear Channel could see the elimination of all program directors and become a company "operated by robotics with nothing local, little live and everything cheap."

Because Kraddick owns his show and provides content to other markets, he might be able to dodge cutbacks, even if KISS suffers them. But he's aware that his show comes with an expiration date, even if it's not on the horizon just yet.

"I always said that I didn't want to be a 45-year-old DJ, and I zoomed past that," he says. "I still love doing it. But the audience will tell me when it's time. I may tell them before they tell me. That's the hope. You want to leave when you still have some shred of value. I've been lucky because I've been compensated pretty well, and I could go away at any moment. If I get the impression that that's what they want me to do, I'll do it. What I'll do with myself, I have no idea."

Robert Philpot, 817-390-7872

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