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Bringing soul back to the airwaves

MAC IS BACK: Mi-Soul founder Gordon Mac

IT’S BEEN 30 years since Gordon Mac founded radio station, Kiss FM.

Three decades later, it’s the number one commercial radio station in London.

“I love that it’s still successful, because it’s what I created,” says Mac.

Known as the ‘Godfather of dance music’, the DJ launched Kiss FM with business partner Martin Strivens in 1985. Originally a pirate radio station, it operated from several locations, including the bedroom of one of its DJs, Trevor Nelson.

In 1992, the station got a licence to run a legal operation and upon Mac’s departure from Kiss in in 1998, the company was valued at £40 million.

Ever the entrepreneur, Mac went on to invest in Z Bar, the first West End-style bar and restaurant in Brixton, south London, and also teamed up with digital station Colourful Radio.

Despite being in the radio game for more than 30 years, the businessman and DJ doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

In fact, his latest radio project, Mi-Soul (pronounced ‘my soul’), was recently granted a DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) licence.

“It’s different now when applying for a licence,” says Mac, who once again teamed up with Strivens to launch Mi-Soul.

“Back in the day, it was all to do with filling in a massive application form and you had to have loads and loads of money.

“But now, as long as you’ve got a decent business plan, you’re reputable people and you’re running a service that will enhance the radio industry, it’s a lot easier to get on to DAB and get a licence.”

With its new licence, Mi-Soul now transmits to 11.7 million listeners across London.

It also means, as Mac explains, that the station can start to grow financially. With the licence, Mi-Soul, will now be audited by the official radio body, Radio Joint Audience Research (RAJAR), which calculates listener figures, including who and where people are listening.

“Going on to DAB means we transmit to the 11.7m people and we go into RAJAR, which means we can now be audited so we can get advertising from big agencies. It’s a game changer.”

As well as fulfilling Mac’s “love of music” – which he says keeps him motivated after all the years – Mi-Soul provides soulful music for the more mature listener, who enjoyed the early music remit of stations like Kiss FM and Choice FM (now Capital XTRA), and miss hearing those sounds on the airwaves.


OLD SCHOOL: The original Kiss FM team

“I think that there’s a need for a radio station like us on the legal network,” says Mac. “There are loads of pirate stations and internet stations, but I think there needs to be one proper station because there’s nothing on FM on the legal airwaves and nothing on DAB that actually represents that generation.”

Mac continues: “People who like soulful music, who are aged between 30 and 60 – people who used to listen to Choice or Kiss – once they reach 30-35, there’s nothing for them to listen to. That’s who we’re catering for.”

The station has also served as a new home for a number of former Choice FM DJs.

“George Kay does our breakfast show and we’ve also got Natty B, Dave VJ and Calvin Francis from the old Choice crew.” Mac says.

“There were loads and loads of great DJs out there that weren’t playing music anywhere. There were like 70 of the top jocks that used to be on all these other big stations – but there hasn’t been a station that can put them all together. So that’s what I wanted to do.”

Reflecting on the love of music he shares with several ‘old school’ DJs, Mac adds: “I love mixing with all the old boys like Norman Jay and Joey Negro, ‘cause we’re still friends and we’ve all still got the passion and a joint interest.”

It was that original joint interest that fuelled Mac and his DJ mates to launch Kiss, which initially reached south London listeners, before going on to broadcast throughout London on 94FM.

The station had gained a large audience by the time it was awarded a legitimate licence and in 1986, Mac sold shares of the company to 10 of the DJs, including Tim Westwood, Jonathan More, Norman Jay and Trevor Nelson.


NEW SCHOOL: Mi-Soul DJ Natty B (right) interviews reggae star Etana

Considering what he thinks of his former station, which now features a mix of pop, house and R&B, Mac is brutally honest: “It’s not what we set out to do,” he says.

“Kiss FM now is different in many ways to what it started out to be, but it’s still a station for the youth. We set it up and called it ‘The sound of young London’, so it still has the brand values that I built back in 1985.”

He continues: “I’m very proud of it. To know that I created it and it’s the number one commercial radio in London, that makes me smile.”

Does he listen to Kiss now?

“It’s way too young for me,” he laughs. “And they’ve stretched the boundaries to become quite wide in their musical taste. I think I heard Taylor Swift on there the other day and I was like, ‘oh please’.

“Still, I do love the fact that it sits there and is successful and I can proudly say ‘I created that’.”

For more information, visit www.mi-soul.com

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