Kraddick, Kiss And The Resurgence Of Top 40

Kidd Kraddick loomed large in Dallas, where his home base of KHKS (Kiss 106.1) was No. 1 25-54 for almost the entire Portable People Meter history of the market: 60 of 62 months. The show was No. 1 6-plus for all but five months of PPM measurement. “It’s just been understood in Dallas that in morning drive you’re competing for second place, because Kidd was always going to finish first,” one local programmer says.

But Kraddick loomed large in other ways that might not immediately come to mind following his passing. He’s often the morning host associated with the changes in what constitutes a good morning show. During his Kiss tenure, he was at the helm as such programs built on the real lives of its cast members became the industry standard, replacing the cast of wacky fake characters that was still readily available when he came to Kiss in the early ‘90s or the bits-and-benchmarks show that was also taking hold at the time.

Kraddick was a pioneer in bringing syndicated morning radio to mainstream and adult top 40. At that time, the syndicated morning show was common in rock and R&B radio, but was still waiting for a Howard Stern or Tom Joyner of its own. His show went into syndication five years before Elvis Duran added another market, and at a time when Ryan Seacrest was still only the co-host of “American Idol.”

Beyond that, Kraddick played a significant role in the resurgence of the top 40 format itself. In 1992, when Gannett launched Kiss 106.1, top 40 stations were still shutting down across the country. Dallas had lost both KHYI (Y95) and Kraddick’s previous employer, KEGL. Top 40 was upstaged by country, hip-hop/R&B radio and the pending modern rock revolution. The suggestion that top 40 would never exist again, at least in its traditional “all the hits” form, was not an uncommon one.

But Kiss went on to become the first major success story of top 40’s mid-’90s rebound. Beginning as more of a hot AC, the station’s format would coalesce into the rhythmic-leaning pop approach that became the template for most big-city top 40s. These days, a major-market top 40 station whose dominance extends well into the 25-plus demos is hardly surprising. When Kiss began showing adult appeal in the mid-’90s, however, it was major news for a format that had publicly grappled with its inability to attract mothers and daughters simultaneously. 

Kraddick’s success at Kiss confirmed that the right mass-appeal morning show could still draw listeners to top 40 who might not be initially connected to the music. More than a decade later, Kiss would make the surprising—and successful—addition of a more pop/rock component—then a violation of “radio law” for a market of that type. Kraddick’s consistency in mornings would help finesse that transition. In syndication, he was also the magnet as WEZB (B97) brought mainstream top 40 back to New Orleans, something once also thought unlikely.

As a prominent figure who became so devoted to charitable work, the legacy that Kraddick sought for himself is clear and deserved. For somebody not known as a programmer, however, his impact on the evolution of top 40 radio rates a sizeable word of thanks as well.