David “Kidd” Kraddick, the popular Irving-based radio personality, has died in New Orleans while attending a charity event, according to a statement from his nationally syndicated show. He was 53.
“Kidd passed away today in New Orleans at a golf tournament organized to raise money for his beloved Kidd’s Kids charity,” it said.
“He died doing what he loved, and his final day was spent selflessly focused on those special children that meant the world to him,” the statement went on.
“All of us with YEA Networks and the Kidd Kraddick in the Morning crew are heartbroken over the loss of our dear friend and leader. Kidd devoted his life to making people smile every morning, and for 21 years his foundation has been dedicated to bringing joy to thousands of chronically and terminally ill children.
“We ask that you respect the privacy of his family and his colleagues. At the appropriate time, we will release more information about the cause of death.”
An internal memo from Clear Channel, a communications corporation that had business links with Mr. Kraddick, said he died of an aneurysm. The cause of death could not be independently confirmed.
Mr. Kraddick, who was divorced, is survived by a daughter. Caroline. He had made his mark as the No. 1 morning personality in DFW for years before finding a national audience with a syndicated show.
KISS afternoon personality Billy the Kidd went on the air with the news late Saturday night.
“We’re absolutely heartbroken over the loss of our dear friend,” the DJ said. “Not just a friend, a dear leader. He devoted his entire life to making people smile every morning. For 21 years, his foundation has been dedicated to bringing joy to thousands of chronically and terminally ill children. He changed their lives.”
Social media carried hundreds of condolence messages.
"Almost impossible to absorb," said Jody Dean, who aired in direct competition with Kidd Kraddick in the Morning on KLUV/98.7 FM. Dean changed his main Facebook photo to a picture of Kraddick. "Prayers and warmest thoughts to the family, friends, listeners and co-workers of Kidd Kraddick."
Mr. Kraddick's show was the top-rated radio show in Dallas-Fort Worth. He entered the market in 1984 with a late-night down on KEGL-FM (The Eagle) and had been with KISS since the station launched in 1993. Although the show went into syndication in 2001 and now airs on more than 70 markets, he remained a Dallas-Fort Worth radio icon. He is a member of the Texas Radio Hall of Fame.
Mr. Kraddick had become known for his charity work, creating Kidd’s Kids, which raised funds to send planeloads of children with chronic illnesses or who were recovering from accidents to Disney World. Three years ago his Kraddick Foundation added The Glamour Squad, which did makeovers for hospitalized teenage girls.
A native of Napoleon, Ohio, who was raised in Florida, Mr. Kraddick landed his first few gigs at stations in Tampa, Fla., Fresno, Calif., Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, where he did some emceeing at comedy clubs in L.A., introducing the likes of Sam Kinison and Paul Reiser before they became stars. His nickname came from a producer at a station where the teenager was the youngest DJ.
His first job in North Texas was the evening shift at KEGL/97.1 FM “The Eagle” when it was a Top 40 station.
“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,” KSCS/96.3 FM’s Mark “Hawkeye” Louis recalled in 2011. “He just really set the tone at night, and that really established him in this market.”
In 1992, the Eagle dropped its Top 40 format, played Hotel California nearly 700 times straight and resurfaced as a hard-rock station. Mr. 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,” Mr. Kraddick told the Star-Telegram in 2011. “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.”
At a time when radio’s reach was fading, Mr. Kraddick built an empire.
“Going up against Kidd is like going up against the Yankees,” KLUV/98.7 FM’s Jody Dean said in November 2011. “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.”
In 2001, Mr. 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 in Irving while the rest of KISS-FM airs out of the Clear Channel studios off the Dallas North Tollway near the Galleria. Because the show is national, he says, it has some natural advantages.
“I always said that I didn’t want to be a 45-year-old DJ, and I zoomed past that,” he said two years ago.
“I still love doing it,” Mr. Kraddick told the paper. “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.”
Eerily, Mr. Kraddick and his crew did a bit Monday about how they would handle his death.
“Have you ever thought about those last moments of your life?” he asked them. “Nobody wants a long, lingering illness; nobody wants just that; but it would be nice if you could have a day or two where you know it’s coming.”
Mr. Kraddick then spent several minutes saying goodbye to each member of his on-air staff.
“When I die, you have permission to take a bunch of creepy pictures of my body,” he joked. “I want to thank all of you guys for being at my deathbed today. I’m going to miss you so much.”
Robert Philpot, 817-390-7872