By the time he was 25, Kraddick had landed jobs, lost jobs, gotten hired, been fired, made money, and found himself dead broke. His short career had been so tumultuous that he contemplated giving up. But then, in 1984, he was offered the nighttime spot at KEGL 97.1 The Eagle, in Dallas. Kraddick didn’t have money or a car to get to Texas, so his oldest brother, Lynn, loaned him cash and a Volvo station wagon. If he got fired, his family thought, at least he could sleep in the back of the car.

kidd_kraddick_3 Dallas Morning News

Kraddick had a youthful voice, and the teen audience of The Eagle, then a Top 40 station, eagerly adopted him. He talked to them about crushes and sex and other embarrassing pubescent concerns. He achieved a sort of boy-band popularity, booking appearances at skating rinks and malls, shouting out his trademark, “Howdy, baby.” Matthew McConaughey once admitted that he had impersonated Kraddick to get into Dallas nightclubs.

As the years passed, Kraddick began to wonder how long he could hang out at teen discos. His own life was transitioning. He now had a wife, a toddler, and a house in the suburbs. He was in his early 30s, but everyone still called him Kidd and expected him to behave like one. Kraddick got a daytime show, but in 1992, The Eagle dropped its Top 40 format and resurfaced as a hard-rock station. 

At 33, Kraddick was out of work. He was still under contract, though, entitling him to two more years of his full salary, which friends speculate was in the six figures. The contract barred him from taking another job in the Dallas market.

Friends remember this period as “Dave in his underwear.” He would hang out at his house in his boxers, depressed and restless, planning a comeback. While he waited, he and a friend, JB Hager, went to work in Kraddick’s upstairs office, launching two new businesses. This was before Google, before the internet as we know it even existed, and there wasn’t a centralized place where DJs could find bits and wacky news stories. Kraddick, who had always been a gadget guy and computer geek, dragged Hager to a computer-parts swap meet in downtown Dallas, a market where “guys who lived in their mothers’ basements swapped computer parts and porn,” Hager says. Kraddick created a bulletin-board system, or BBS, a computer with a bank of modems behind it that DJs could dial in to and share information. Many people weren’t familiar yet with home computers, and the men spent hours on the phone explaining how to use them. 

“Kraddick basically taught me, and the whole radio industry, how to get online,” Hager says.

The second business the men launched was an industry magazine, The Morning Mouth. They interviewed top radio personalities across the country. Both services were revolutionary. DJs went from clipping items out of newspapers to receiving a daily trove of material to talk about on air. It also connected the industry, in some ways making it more of a brotherhood. Both businesses did well, and he eventually sold them in separate deals, making more than $7 million, according to a business associate.

Still, Kraddick desperately wanted to get back behind a mic. He began talks with Gannett Company, which owned KHKS and was relaunching it as a Top 40 station called 106.1 KISS FM. He begged The Eagle to release him from his contract. After eight months, they did. Gannett couldn’t match his salary, but Kraddick didn’t care. He agreed to a two-thirds pay cut. 

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On his first day back on the air in 1993, Kraddick was ebullient, cocky, ready. He prank-called rival morning shows on air. “I’m going to kick your butt, buddy. I’m going to own you!” he shouted into the phone. He wasn’t sure, though, if anyone was listening to the new station.

They were. KISS soared from 23rd in the ratings to third. Kraddick came shockingly close to trumping the two longtime kings of local morning radio, Terry Dorsey at KSCS and Ron Chapman at KVIL. That was across the board, in all demographics. His target audience was female, moms ferrying their kids to school. For the next 20 years, his show often topped ratings in nearly every female demographic group and often held the No. 1 spot for teens. 

Kraddick had matured. As a parent, he could identify with his adult audience. He started talking about his wife, Carol, and his daughter, Caroline, introducing a successful bit called “Bath Time With Caroline,” recording his toddler singing and playing in the tub. The audience loved it.

Naturally, there were still high jinks. One morning at 2 am, he called his friend Bert Weiss, his co-host at the time. “Bert, it’s Kidd,” Weiss remembers him saying. “John Tesh is in town. I have an idea. Yeah, it might be illegal.” Kraddick hired a limousine to take him to the airport to meet Tesh 10 minutes before his legitimate limo was scheduled to arrive and take him to an appearance on another morning show. They picked up Tesh and did an interview from the back of the car. Then they dropped him off at the other show. Tesh never knew what happened. 

“My God, the dude had balls,” Weiss says. “He was fearless.”

One thing he wasn’t, though, was content, Weiss says. Little by little, Kraddick was achieving the life he had dreamed of: a hit show, fame, spectacular ratings, an enviable bank account. Yet none of it seem to make him happy.

“He could never just enjoy it,” says friend Lisa Mulcahy, who ran Bitboard. “You know, why does it always have to be better? It’s great right now. I would tell him, ‘Kidd, just back away a little and enjoy it.’ ”

Wilson pressed Kraddick to tell friends what was going on. Some had begun to wonder if he had a drug problem.

Despite his good-natured demeanor on air, he could also be impatient and hot-tempered. He would sometimes hurl his golf clubs at trees when he didn’t play well. His producers and technicians came to anticipate his moods and 2 am calls. He would arrive at the station to do the show with disheveled hair, having been up all night surfing the internet, watching late-night talk shows, thinking of new material. Around the station, they called him No Sleep Kidd. His pace could be hard on the people around him.

“It was awful,” Lindsay Lawler says with a laugh, recalling her time as Kraddick’s personal assistant. “You never knew when you were going to get a phone call with one of his crazy, grandiose ideas. And you would want to throw the phone at him. He was one of those guys who said, ‘Make it happen.’ There are plenty of people I have worked for, when they say, ‘Make it happen,’ you just want to give them the middle finger. But he could always make you say yes.”

Chris Cloutier worked as the show’s web engineer from 2005 to 2007. “There were times when I didn’t like him,” he says. “There were times when I thought he was an asshole, no question. There were times when it was just impossible to work for the guy. He chewed up a lot of people. But he was a madman genius, and I learned a lot from him.”

Kraddick rewarded the people who could keep up with him, though. One Christmas, he hosted an Oprah-style Favorite Things party, where he gave out everything from a set of pots and pans to new flat-screen televisions. Another Christmas, he invited his staff to a Walmart. When everyone arrived, from receptionists to co-hosts, he passed out envelopes, each stuffed with hundreds of dollars of cash, and told them they had 20 minutes to shop. Whatever they didn’t spend, they forfeited. Dozens of his employees raced through the Walmart, laughing and filling up shopping carts, with Kraddick using a megaphone to mark the time: “Four more minutes!”

“It was insane,” says a former co-host, Rich Shertenlieb. “Not only did he want to do something nice, but he wanted it to be like nothing you had ever done before.”

Kraddick was eventually able to leverage his success like very few radio personalties ever have. His show was picked up by Premiere Radio and broadcast nationally in 2001. Then, six years later, with his company YEA Networks, he took ownership of Kidd Kraddick in the Morning. He moved into his own studio in Irving and began syndicating the show himself, eventually reaching 74 markets.  

Part of that success resulted from his hard work and immense talent. Part, though, came from his knack for assembling a cast of characters. Kraddick compared his show to reality television: “a group of people with no discernible talent getting together, and people actually watch them.” He found people who were naturally funny and came from different backgrounds. The diversity created conflict, which generated interesting discussions. The current group would not likely have been friends outside of that Irving studio: Kellie Rasberry, a conservative, white single mother from South Carolina; Big Al Mack, a swinging black bachelor from Dallas who was running a limo service when Kraddick discovered him; Jose Chavez, aka J-Si, a young, tender-hearted Hispanic who got married after joining the show; and Jenna Owens, a sultry twentysomething from the Midwest. 

For four hours every weekday morning, they packed into a room to talk about their personal lives, with Kraddick at the center of every conversation. But he wasn’t sharing everything.