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Kidd Kraddick in the Morning: One year later

Posted 6:43pm on Saturday, Jul. 26, 2014

For the Kidd Kraddick in the Morningcast, returning to the Kidd’s Kids charity golf tournament this month was a surreal experience. It was at the New Orleans-area tournament that Kidd Kraddick, the longtime host of the show and iconic DFW radio personality, died unexpectedly on July 27, 2013.

“I felt like I was reliving that day as we drove up,” said Jose “J-Si” Chavez, part of a regular cast that also includes Kellie Rasberry, Big Al Mack and Jenna Owens. “The weather seemed familiar — it was rainy, it was misty, it was cloudy. It felt like Groundhog Day without Kidd.”

In an interview with the cast members at the show’s Las Colinas studios, Mack added: “You’d look up and think, ‘That’s the last place I saw Kidd. That’s where Jenna collapsed, that’s where I was when Jenna got the phone call — all those thoughts.’ 

Then something even more eerie happened.

“We went onstage to accept a check for Kidd’s Kids, and this gust of wind came out of nowhere,” Chavez said. “It’s giving me goosebumps right now. And the sun came out and the clouds cleared up, and it turned into a completely different day than it was last year. Everyone was smiling and nobody was crying.”

Whether you believe in signs or just coincidences, the spirit of Kraddick — who had hosted the show since 1993, and had been a DFW radio fixture since 1984 — is alive. And it’s the cast, largely, that’s keeping it that way.

They’re doing it this weekend, asking listeners to “Do it for Kidd” by committing random acts of kindness and paying received kindnesses forward.

They’re keeping the spirit alive Monday, with a KKITM show that will be a celebration of the life of Kraddick (whose real name was David Cradick), with the cast sharing memories of him and asking callers to do the same.

And they’ve been keeping the spirit alive for the 12 months since Kraddick’s death of cardiac disease at age 53 (a D Magazine cover story, published in January 2014, revealed that Kraddick had undergone treatment for lymphoma but that the cancer wasn’t the cause of his death).

It hasn’t been easy: Not only did they lose a friend and colleague, but they also lost the person who drove the show, the restless, quick-witted idea machine. The one who had a knack for finding talent, and bringing out their best on the air. It’s a testament to Kraddick and his crew that a year after his death, the show is still the top-rated radio show in DFW.

“Everybody just kind of stepped up their game,” Rasberry said. “Everybody started contributing more. … We depended so much on Kidd. If there was a lull in the conversation, he always filled it. If there’s a lull in the conversation now, there’s going to be a lot of dead air if we don’t step up.”

Rasberry has been with the show the longest, having marked 20 years this spring. She was Kraddick’s top on-air foil, the one whose buttons he knew most how to press, the one who gave back as good as she got.

“I miss the Kidd and Kellie fights,” Mack said. “They were hilarious, because Kidd knew how to do it, and Kellie would get so frustrated. Sometimes mad, but sometimes just frustrated. … It was just comical to me that they would love each other so much, and she’s so [angry], but 10 minutes later it would be all good.”

Rasberry quipped: “I miss having somebody to have fight with like that. That’s fun. That’s not fun, but it gets your blood boiling. I just liked having someone that kept me on my toes. I can’t go there with people like I went there with Kidd.”

But even with her long assocation with the show, Rasberry said she didn’t step into the role of a leader. Instead, the cast fills that role together.

“We’re an ensemble now,” Chavez said. “It’s like a sitcom. You know, Modern Family doesn’t have that one person they focus on. It’s a group of people, and that’s what our show has evolved into now.”

Added Owens: “I think Kidd chose a great mix of flavors. We don’t agree on everything, and that’s important. Everyone that’s listening now gets a little more flavor of each of us.”

Kraddick died on a Saturday; on the Monday after, the cast did an emotional tribute show before taking some time off and running best-of shows, although Mack and Chavez occasionally came in to take some calls. On Aug. 3, they announced on the KKITM website (Kiddnation.com) that the show would go on. They had some doubts — the show was Kraddick’s vision, the studio his space.

“But it didn’t take as long as I thought,” said Owens, who has been with the show about six years. “A new normal sets in rather quickly. … When you get back in there and you start working, you realize each day, ‘He’s not going to be there when we get there.’ I don’t feel sad anymore. He’s still watching us every day.”

Kidd’s ideals live on

Kraddick’s spirit is alive, too, in his daughter, Caroline, and the Kidd’s Kids charity, which he founded because of her.

Before Caroline Cradick was born in 1990, doctors told Kraddick and his then-wife, Carol, that their baby could be born with a twisted femur, leaving her unable to walk. Kraddick prayed that she would be born healthy, striking a deal with God that if she was, he would use his radio show to help other kids.

Cradick was born healthy, and in 1991 her father founded Kidd’s Kids, which takes qualifying children and their families on a trip to Disney World each year. Cradick is now the director of Kidd’s Kids.

“We’re taking the most kids we’ve ever taken this year, which is 60 families,” Cradick said. “We’re still carrying on his legacy, and just as the show’s carrying on, we’re carrying on.” (Kidd’s Kids Day, when the show asks listeners to pledge money to fund the trip, is set for Sept. 3.)

Cradick, who is preparing to move to Nashville to launch a music career, said she stays connected to her father through music, especially Ben Folds, his favorite artist. She has also co-written a song called Just Love about her father, which she hopes to record and release soon.

She acknowledges that this July has been tough as the anniversary nears, but she has found comfort in other ways as well.

“I find myself reading his e-mails to me a lot,” she says. “I find a lot of solace in that. Our favorite restaurant was Javier’s, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been there this year. Every time I walked through the door, I’d have good memories of both my parents, because that’s where we went as a family.”

But Cradick couldn’t bring herself to attend this year’s charity golf tournament. The tragic events of last July are still too vivid, too raw.

“I’m remembering every single moment leading up to it, and just little things that pop back into my head that I’d forgotten about,” she said. “That pain comes back, and it’s really hard. [But] I know the more that I lay in my bed and cry, the more mad my dad would be. This weekend, I’m going to spend it with family and friends and just really try to remember the good times.”

And she still leans on the Kidd Kraddick in the Morning cast for support, especially Rasberry.

“I’ve known Kellie my whole life,” Cradick said. “We’re so close and I just feel so lucky to have her, as well as the rest of the people of the show. That’s a huge deal for me to be able to have them, because they’re like my aunts and uncles. I feel like I’ve known ’em forever.”

Although Kidd Kraddick in the Morning, which runs on more than 60 stations nationwide, has operated out of its own studio since it went into syndication in 2001, Kraddick remained involved in KISS-FM, the station he’d been with since it launched in 1993. Patrick Davis, vice president of programming for KISS parent Clear Channel Dallas-Fort Worth, was the Kidd Kraddick in the Morning operations manager for two years and talked with Kraddick frequently.

Like Kidd Kraddick in the Morning, the station paid tribute to Kraddick after his death.

“We were going through some of the audio from last year, and [hearing] just how emotional and shocking it was,” Davis says. “I had just seen Kidd a few days earlier. I know everybody says, ‘You never expect it,’ but Kidd looked like the picture of health to me. He was running around being Kidd, being goofy and telling jokes.”

Davis received the call about Kraddick around 8:30 p.m. and enlisted afternoon DJ Billy “The Kidd” Green to break the news to listeners. With some help from midday DJ Cruz, Green stayed on the air for 17 straight hours taking calls about Kraddick, whom he considered both a friend and mentor.

“That whole day was a blur to me,” said Green — who marks his 10th anniversary at KISS on July 27. “It was one of the hardest things ever. Moving forward, I just kind of take in all the things Kidd said to me -- we were pretty close — the meetings that we had, the e-mails that I’d read over and the notes that I took. I didn’t realize back then how much he gave me.”

As a radio programmer, Davis still works with the Kidd Kraddick in the Morning show — but he says the dynamic has changed, with him giving advice and feedback to the cast, while Kraddick used to tell him how morning radio should be done.

But it’s all part of keeping the spirit alive.

“I always thought that I would be long retired by the time Kidd Kraddick left radio,” Davis says. “The suddenness of it was a huge shock. I think Kellie said it the best, when they came back on the air that Monday: ‘Kidd was everything he was on the air, and more off the air. He was the instigator, he was the troublemaker, he was mischievious. But he also had a way of changing people’s lives.”

Hard act to follow

The cast replayed so many of Kraddick’s bits in the first couple of months after his death that they were still hearing his voice; Rasberry says it was like he was still in the next room. But then they slowly started doing more of the talking themselves, adapting to the loss of their leader.

They still get messages every day from listeners — in some cases, three generations of Kraddick fans, who heard him first in DFW on KEGL/97.1 FM when it was still a Top 40 station, then on KISS-FM since 1993.

“He did so many shows, and things resonate with people,” Chavez said. “And we’re family, so they want to share that with us. That’s not sad, that shows me that he made an impression with them, and I’m that person that they want to message and say, ‘Hey, this reminded me of Kidd.’ 

Some listeners and observers wondered who would replace Kraddick as the show’s host. But the cast is a family, and families lose people and keep moving on. And, Mack said, Kraddick was a hard act to follow.

“I would feel sorry for anybody who would try to replace Kidd,” Mack said. “We talked about that, like ‘You don’t want to be that guy.’ 

Chavez said: “But some of Kidd rubbed off on us in different areas. And you still see that shining through, because we’re around each other so much that sometimes, a little bit of Kidd does come out in us.”

Robert Philpot, 817-390-7872 Twitter: @rphilpot

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