Straight From the Mouth
The Morning Mouth's February Interview with Kidd Kraddick
(Reprinted by permission; Copyright © 2009 Talentmasters Inc.)
Let's start at the very beginning -- the very beginning. At what point in your life did you decide you were going to be a deejay?
I'm old. I can't remember. It was when I was in high school. I remember always being the one to host the talent shows and pep rallies at school. (Yeah, that guy got all the chicks.) I worked at a teen club when I was 14 called "Papa's Dream." It was a Christian youth meeting place disguised as a night club. My dad or brother would drive me 20 miles each way twice a week so I could spin records for three or four hours every weekend. Back then, being a club DJ was not about mixing...it wasn't like I was spinning deep trance or anything like that. It was more about personality and getting the other kids up to dance. I also announced when the police were on their way. That experience revealed the passion I had for being behind a mic, so I really got focused after that. I got to know the night guy at my hometown station; Q105 in Tampa, "Uncle Johnny". He was the nicest guy ever and really got me pointed in the right direction. Little did I know that just three years later I would have his job.
And you got your first break when?
My first break was not very impressive, but it was a job on the radio. It was running the "God Squad" at Y100 in Miami. They were preacher tapes played in the middle of the night on Sunday night. After a couple weeks, those tapes always found some way to break, so I had to go on live instead. They finally caught me after about 2 months but I had enough tape to put together an aircheck and get a job...at the legendary WKXY in the legendary Sarasota, Florida.
Has the name Kidd, always been your moniker?
No "Shotgun," Scooter" etc."
Was it always two d's at the end? Were you almost any other name?
I was another name in Sarasota for a very short time. The "PD" (meaning the owner) thought I would make a great "Dave Dees". Yeah, Rick knows about that and it's a beating every time he brings it up. When I got to Q105, Mason Dixon thought I should use my real last name and choose a first name that highlights how young I was (19 at the time). That's where Kidd Kraddick came from.
I've always found that behind every great success story in radio, there's someone who can be credited with either providing the inspiration, or for giving them the key break that paved the way to their success. Did you have one?
I mentioned Uncle Johnny already but there have been countless "helpers" along the way. I hate mentioning them by name in interviews because the one I leave out will call and leave me a horribly hateful VM. Screw it, I'll throw out a few. Jeff and Jer, Jim Sumpter, Tom Owens, Brenda Adriance, Patrick Davis, Joel Folger, and the great Dick Clark.
On the show, your joined by longtime co-host Kellie Rasberry (who joined in '94), Big Al (now known following last year's Boot Camp as Really Big Al), JC, Shanon & Cappy. Did I forget anyone?
JC is actually J-Si (get the clever spanish hook?) and Cappy is actually my production director but comes on the air with us occasionally. Of course Kellie and Al are the primary players and they've been with me for over 12 years... it's to the point where I can barely imagine coming in and them not being there. I can't tell you the last time either of them missed a day. Seriously, it's been at least five years. they know exactly what the show is, why it works, and give me such a huge comfort level every morning no matter how tired I am. J-Si we got from San Diego almost three years ago and he's becoming a star, which is cool. Shanon is the world's greatest producer and has been with me since she was a teenager, moving up from intern to phone screener, to assistant producer to producer over the years. Pretty much everyone in the building is on the air at some point. I have a couple of young newbies... "Sexy Jack" is a British import who went to college in the area and chicks dig his suave sophistication, and Jenna Owen is our new
Who else behind the scenes would you like to recognize?
As the owner of a small company and the host, I wish I could give props to every single employee. I'm a mess, they know it, they cover for me, and usually it all works out. Josh Medlock is my marketing guy who tolerates my midnight phone calls that always start out "What if...?" and Rob Chickering is my engineer I got from "The Ticket" and discovered he's not only a brilliant engineer and sound guy but also has amazing ideas. Cappy has gone from being a first-time production director to a freaking wizard who can create amazing bits during commercial breaks. I would talk them all up more but if I did, they would get stolen away from me and I would be revealed for the hack that I am. So I rarely talk about them (or their rampant drug problems that makes each of them virtually un-hireable).
At some point along the way, you figured out doing a female-targeted show was a winning formula. Was this a natural progression, or had you always leaned in this direction?
This is truly a case of the formula fitting the guy. I've always been more interested in talking to women...maybe because that's ALL I did in high school was talk to them. I was the best friend that would help them through a break up but when it came to dating them they always threw-up in their mouths, apparently. I know it's popular for every show to have a metrosexual on board but with me, it wasn't a conscious choice. At parties I was the one who didn't have much to add to the deer-gutting discussion so I usually found myself talking to the women, sharing feelings. I'm not particularly proud of that but it's who I am. I just find it more interesting to talk to someone who's not just like me. Women are so mysterious and emotional and hard to figure out. Guy radio never appealed to me. I never thought bathroom or sex humor was that funny.
When Did Syndication Come Into Play?
Right when Clear Channel took over KISS-FM back in 2001. I'd been talking to Kraig Kitchin and with all the changes that were going on, it seemed like the best way to insure that my show wouldn't change intrinsically. I moved into the new studio just for our show two days after 9/11.
And then you bought your show from Premiere. How did that come about?
Actually, it's a little more complicated than that. Premiere syndicated the show for about three years. Then Clear Channel took over the syndication. To be totally honest, I'm not sure why that happened except to say there were some new people at the helm of KISS-FM and it was their play to try and bring me back in to the local fold. None of those people are still with the company. That's when I really got into the syndication business because all my network infrastructure went away. There wasn't even anyone selling the show until I hired someone myself to do it from my building. It was an extremely challenging time but looking back, I learned so much about the syndication and network business as a result. In 2007, with the Bain Capital deal looming, John Hogan and I started discussions about me owning the show. A short time later I signed a deal that gave me full ownership of my show and also a long-term contract with KISS-FM. I always said I wanted to "retire my jersey" at KISS so I was thrilled to get that done. That's when the relationship with Clear Channel took a dramatic upward turn. They became my biggest customer instead of my employer and that worked so much better for both sides. I can be pretty stubborn sometimes and I don't think I was ever very suited to work for a large corporation. My dad was a wildcat entrepreneur and instilled that spirit in each of his kids, so the big company thing was always a struggle for me. Now, owning my own business (just like I did with BitBoard and Morning Mouth) feels totally right for me. It's hard as hell. I just lost my CEO (Brenda Adriance) and I'm not gifted at managing people (to say the least) but I LOVE the fact that I control my own destiny and have no one to blame but myself when things don't go the way I want.
Last year you started the YEA NETWORK. What are some of your plans here?
Being a small independent network is not ideal in this environment of "synergy" and corporate partnerships. We have no "distribution"a..meaning, we're not owned by a company that owns a bunch of stations they can throw us on. We have to scrap for every affiliate and prove ourselves each and every time. But that fact has made us a better company and has made Kidd Kraddick in the Morning a better show. If morning shows continue to be judged by how good their ratings are and how much revenue they generate, we'll continue to do great. The fear of course is that the big owners will ignore us regardless of our success and only put on shows they own. But hey, even if that becomes the case, we're a small company and don't have to be on a thousand stations to make a profit. I'd rather perform at a high level on the affiliates we get and let that be our calling card. I think there will always be owners who make decisions based on results, not politics, etc.
When someone comes up to you and says they want to syndicate their show, what advice do you offer?
First I would say, be careful what you wish for. If you like to have a life outside your job, I strongly discourage it. If you're doing it because you don't like being told what to do, see how you like being told what to do by 50 or 100 different bosses. On the other hand, if you truly want to be a national show and will work hard to make it happen... If you will compromise only when every other option is exhausted, if you won't be satisfied with just having a bunch of affiliates...but won't rest unless ALL of them are winning and doing well, then I say go for it.
I won't lie. Syndication has taken a toll on all of us from a personal standpoint. The three key players on the morning show (me included) are all divorced now and syndication definitely played a part in that. We travel all the time. We work all the time. I get up before 4am and sometimes I don't leave the office until after 4pm. The work is never done. There's also a learning curve that should be factored in...the technology now allows you to be both national and local, but learning how to maximize it takes time.
Having said all that, I think we are at an apex. It's like 1960 in television when all the local shows started to get replaced by network offerings. The old adage that good local beats national simply isn't holding water anymore. At least not on a universal scale. Could you imagine the ABC affiliate in Boise deciding that "Hello Idaho" is a better option than Desperate Housewives because it's local?
Go into a local television station and the only "talent" in the building are the news anchors and reporters. Many major market stations now have only 2 or 3 air talent in-house. The writing is on the wall and if you want to stay in the business, syndication should definitely be a consideration.
Last summer I heard you speak at a convention in Austin. The session was built on the premise "If I were elected president of radio." In recalling the gist of your comments, you suggested that "great radio" is, and always will be, the only real solution.
Alternatives such as HD or Internet Radio, plus driving more listeners to your website were with merit, but paled compared to just doing better radio.
Do you think most companies really get that message?
To varying degrees. I think big companies are looking for cost-effective alternatives to high-priced, mediocre talent. There's been this enormous distraction with delivery of our product while we've watched a mass exodus of our most talented content people. That's just bad lookin' out and I think it's the primary reason radio had seven down years before this economic crisis we're in now. It's as if we sat around and thought of all the different ways and places we could sell cookies and didn't notice that the cookies all went bad. We've got to recognize that PPM will no longer allow us to kick back on live off our reputations. We have to be great right now, and the next time, and the time after that or we're going to get left behind. I spend half of my day just trying to create...create content for my show, create excitement for my listeners, create promotions that haven't been done, create NEW shows that my company can put out, create a reason for me and my company to continue to exist.
Last year you were one of the first shows to get then President Elect Obama on your show. How nerve-racking was that? Did you really get Jonas Brothers Concert tickets for his daughters?
We DID hook up now President Obama with the Jonas Brothers but Malia and Sasha couldn't go to that particular show. I'm hearing that they will be screening their movie for the first family at the White House this month. The Jonas Brothers live just a few miles from us in Westlake, Texas and we've been lucky to forge a strong relationship with them.
Interviewing Obama (twice) was a little nerve-wracking. My show's reach is definitely conservative-heavy and I didn't want to pander to him, nor did I want to try and be some newsy political analyst. That's why we focused on the family and the kids for a good part of the interviews. The Jonas Brothers poster revelation was picked up by hundreds of news sources and reported around the world. I'm still getting emails from faraway lands about it.
Has there ever been a guest that made you nervous? Have you ever had a Joaquin Phoenix moment such as his appearance on Letterman?
Yes, many many times in all these years but I'll mention three of them. First, Blu Cantrell came in to sing "Hit 'Em Up Style" but changed her mind when the track started. So I decided that one of us was going to sing it and if it wasn't going to be her, I would do it. She glared at me while I sang badly and glared back. Awkward. One of the handful to ever leave during the interview. The other one is a little hard to talk about because he's no longer with us. Heath Ledger was having a very bad day when he came in to the studio to talk about "A Knight's Tale". He was only 22 at the time and not well-versed in the radio interview game apparently because he read the newspaper the entire interview and every answer was one or two words. I've heard from others that he was a great guy so I choose to believe we caught him on a bad day. Finally, shortly after Mel Gibson's arrest for DUI, we had him on and were having a great discussion about forgiveness and making amends. When I brought up his father and some of the anti-Semitic things he'd been quoted as saying, Mel hung up on me. He called back immediately and claimed the phone disconnected. We're not a confrontational show very often so that was ridiculously uncomfortable. It caused a ton of talk though.
It's fair to say you've had a storybook career and I'm sure jocks just starting out would love to pick your brain. What are the one or two things you always suggest to young talent. Specifically, those who want to do mornings?
First would be, rid yourself of the fear gene when you're on the air. After all these years I still like to think that I take ridiculous chances on the air with unplanned bits...for example, I have a "fake phone" I can pick up and launch into a character or celebrity impression (usually a bad one) without a script. The other day Kellie was doing a story about a French dolphin that washed ashore while in the process of mating. Big Al said, "We've got the french dolphin on the phone right now!" and I just picked up the fake phone and went for it. I think you can't be afraid to look stupid or you will become this uptight, safe show that never creates memorable moments. I've found that studying improv and doing it a lot makes you a much better radio personality. Secondly, I would tell them to spend very little time learning about their audience and an enormous amount of time learning about themselves.
Perspective is the only thing we possess that is truly unique from everyone else. Finally, I would tell them to think twice before they play a trick on their audience, lie to their audience, or pass off something fake as real. Those mistakes may make for great radio for awhile but when you're caught, they're really hard to recover from.
Kidd's Kids is one of radio's most recognized and modeled after community events (an annual trip for terminally ill children to Disney World). Recently, you began "My turn day." With no pun intended, how did that turn out?
According to our monitoring service, over a million people participated in My Turn Day, by mentioning it in their status on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. The idea is that one day a year we would all tell what we're doing or going to do to help other people. My hope was that it would spread like a good samaritan "virus" and others would feel compelled to do something too. Somebody told Demi Mooore about it and she embraced it and started twittering it to her massive follower list. We had other celebrities get on board too. Like a typical Kidd Kraddick idea, there was no time to truly flesh it out but like Kidd's Kids, I hope it grows every year and eventually becomes something that's here for a long time and does some good.
You have one of the most successful shows in radio, you started a comedy service, published a magazine and now run a network. Is there any one thing you would still like to accomplish before retiring?
I don't want to sound greedy because I truly have been blessed. It could end right now and would have exceeded my wildest dreams...in fact, it would have far exceeded what my talent level would dictate.
I don't think I can continue though without having goals still unrealized. Aside from our home market of Dallas, we have no exposure in top-ten markets and I'd like to have a shot at that before I go. I really think our show could do well in a New York or Los Angeles...maybe even better than in smaller cities...because I think "local" is less important when you live in a metropolis. Another goal was to explore having a TV talk show and I've been down that path a couple times in the past year, even going so far as to do a development deal and start to shoot a pilot. Not wanting to move out of Dallas always makes that one a tough goal to hit. Aside from work stuff, I have a whole "bucket list" of things I'd like to do before I'm out of here. I don't have much control over some of them, like seeing my daughter on Broadway, but it would sure be cool if they happened. Like everyone else, regardless of age, I'm still a work in progress and there are a bunch of personal issues I'd like to overcome at some point. My therapist is hoping that goal waits until he's retired.