A 'Humbled' Tim Hattrick Returns to Radio With a New Perspective
“I’ve now officially seen everything in this business,” says veteran radio broadcaster Tim Hattrick with a laugh. “The Cubs won, Trump is president, and I’m back on KNIX [Phoenix]. What’s next: self-driving cars?”
Hattrick, an award-winning personality with vast major-market experience, returned to the game on Jan. 9 as frontman of KNIX’s revamped morning show. But it happened after several years of professional and financial struggles that he says were “humbling, but not humiliating.”
As half of the morning team Tim & Willy (with longtime partner Willy D. Loon), Hattrick previously spent 1998-2007 at KNIX, as well as two different stints at cross-town rival KMLE. When KMLE fired the team in 2012, the pair launched its own syndicated show, but struggled to place it anywhere outside a handful of small Arizona outlets. By the time the two decided to pull the plug on that effort in 2014, Hattrick had lost the life savings he had invested in it.
During the next couple of years, Hattrick says he applied for “about a thousand jobs” he felt qualified for — both in and out of radio — and heard back from only about 15 potential employers. “It was eye-opening,” he says of the experience. “I think this is true for a lot of radio people, [but] I never had to fill out an application or make a résumé for my entire career … I couldn’t find something that looked like it was right in my skill set or a dream job. In the meantime, my bills didn’t care if I had a dream job. They just wanted to be paid.”
To make ends meet, he briefly hosted a podcast focused on cybercrime, security and privacy issues, and worked for a time at a charity called Pipeline Worldwide. He also drove for Uber and UPS, and packed boxes at a fulfillment center as a seasonal Amazon employee.
He suddenly felt like one of the listeners he had been broadcasting to all those years. For the first time in his life, Hattrick found himself driving in rush-hour traffic, punching a time clock, getting a half-hour lunch break and icing his aching knees after work, all while being occasionally recognized on the job and asked, “What are you doing here?” It all gave him a new appreciation for how people really use radio, and he remembered all the times he and Loon were told they had put a smile on fans’ faces in the midst of a crappy workday. “I got to feel it and experience it on a deep and a personal level,” he says. “Every DJ should take a week off and just drive around in traffic and listen [to radio].”
Still, he says he found all of his various new job experiences “interesting, never demoralizing.” As an Uber driver, he kept his verbal skills sharp by essentially doing his radio show for an audience of just one or two people on each ride. But the more he did it, the more he missed having a place to tell his stories again.
When he interviewed for the job at KNIX late in 2016 (in what he jokes was “the same building I had stormed out of nine years earlier”), there was some discussion of how to get him in and out of the building without being recognized since his predecessor did not yet know he was being replaced. It turned out not to be an issue. Wearing his UPS uniform and a hat, Hattrick says, nobody even gave him a second glance other than the building’s regular UPS man.
Prior to that interview, he had begun to believe a return to radio wasn’t in the cards. “I thought that door had closed and the business had changed,” he says, adding, “Never say never.”
Hattrick now thinks the time away from radio was good for him. Changes in the business during his second stint at KMLE had made it harder to do the kind of fun show he was known for. He and Loon were “under a lot of economic pressure from the management side and the ownership side,” he explains. “I became more frustrated, and I was probably a little hard to deal with. I’m sure I was. I never thought of myself as trying to be a jerk, but I probably was to some people. Part of what you need to do this job well is some ego and some belief that you’ve got talent, but when the people stop returning your calls, you go, ‘Well, maybe I’m not as big as I thought I was.’ ”
After doing some recent local media interviews in which he shared his financial and employment struggles, Hattrick says fans have embraced him more than ever since so many can relate to those trials. “There’s just a great warmth,” he says of listener reaction to his return.
At KNIX — where he initially got back in the swing of things with some fill-in shifts during the holidays — he has happily slipped into a familiar role. Still, he’s getting used to looking across the board and seeing someone other than Loon (who is now happily retired, according to Hattrick). After nearly 25 years of working together, says Hattrick, the pair finished each other’s sentences. So while he lauds the considerable talents of new morning show partners Ben Campbell and Brooke Hoover, he says they’re still strangers for now. “We’re, like, stuck in an elevator [together] for five hours [a day],” he jokes. But he thinks their show is coming together quickly. “We’re really growing on each other and finding each other’s idiosyncrasies and strengths and weaknesses.”
He’s also full of praise for his new boss, iHeart Media executive vp programming Steve Geoffries. “He’s a program director who loves great ideas, and there’s a lot of instinct involved,” says Hattrick. “He’s not overburdened with research and focus groups and algorithms and all of the science. He’s got that side, but if you’ve got a great story of why a guy needs to hear Waylon Jennings driving his pickup to work at 5 a.m., [he’ll say], ‘By all means tell the story and play the song.’ It’s those things about radio that I think have been missing for a while.”
Now happily employed again in the industry he loves, Hattrick has some advice for other broadcasters still on the job hunt. “Keep doing something creative,” he suggests. “Write. Do a podcast. Do a funny Instagram in the style of what your show was.” He also recommends signing up for local storytelling events, which he describes as being like comedy or music open-mic nights, but for storytelling. “Just keep yourself out there doing the things you did on the radio. There’s lots of different ways you can express yourself creatively in the here and now that are newfangled parts of the digital age.”
That Hattrick kept a positive attitude throughout everything he experienced is a testament to his character. “The things in our life that are our difficulties and our challenges turn out to be the things that make us who we are,” he says. “You don’t like to go through this stuff. Nobody would want to be humbled, but I look back on it now and think, ‘That’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I’m grateful for it.’ ”