Pirate radio stations changed the UK radio scene forever.
Over more than 8 decades, these stations have operated outside of the restrictions of the law, appearing from New York, to London. Although pirate stations emergedfor many different reasons, the unifying purpose of most programmes was to give a voice to the music and ideas that other stations refused to broadcast.
That’s exactly why Kiss FM Radio began in 1985.
Although the Kiss FM Radio station wasn’t one of the original pirate stations in the UK, it is one of the most well-known. The company launched after the Marine Offences Act was already in place, which meant that they were constantly struggling to stay out of the government’s reach.
While pirate radio dwindled slightly during the 1970s, it surged back into life during the 80s after a new generation of listeners felt they weren’t appropriately represented on the air. Black music stations were particularly popular at the time, including the iconic Kiss FM, which launched in South London, playing reggae, funk, soul, and other music that didn’t appear on conventional stations.
From their high-rise tower blocks across the country, Kiss FM gathered a cult following across Greater London, and gradually earned a reputation in other parts of the world too. However, like many tales throughout radio history, Kiss FM’s story has its dark patches.
Here, we’re going to dive into Kiss FM history, to discover some of the most crucial moments of one of the UK’s best-known stations.
The basics of Kiss FM history
Kiss FM wasn’t always the legal station you know today.
When the company initially launched, it was a pirate radio station that began broadcasting in south London, and gradually spread its music across the rest of the city.
The History of Kiss FM began with a man called Gordon Mac McNamee, and his pals, Pyers Easton, Tosca, and George Power. From a very early stage, Kiss FM had a dedicated following across London. More than 500,000 listeners tuned into the unlicensed station each day, appreciative of the opportunity to discover a new kind of music.
Eventually, Gordan Mac approached Guy Wingate, a London club promoter at the time, to discover new ways of promoting the radio station. Wingate suggested launching Kiss nights at a local club (the Wag club), which increased the credibility of the programme with its target audience. Wingate also joined the Kiss FM Radio team soon after, along with Lindsay Wesker.
Although Gordon Mac officially owned the Kiss FM Radio Station, he happily sold shares to many of the company’s DJ’s, including Jonathan More, Tim Westwood, and Trever Nelson. The team of disc jockeys and various volunteers from the London community helped the station to grow over the years. In 1988, the Department of Trade and Industry created a new radio license, which Kiss FM applied for. The station received one of the first new licenses in December 1989.
On September 1st, 1990, Kiss opened its doors as a fully legal station, with offices and a studio located on Holloway Road. Norman Jay hosted the very first show on the station. Since then, Jay has become a very popular disc jockey, like many of his peers. Other popular DJs like Judge Jules, Dave Pearce, Nick Power, and Graham Gold have had an influential impact on modern music in the years since working on Kiss FM.
What kind of music does Kiss FM play?
When pirate radio returned to the airwaves in the 1980s, it was the only way that people could listen to culturally diverse and new sources of music. Black British musicians were creating a space for themselves through radio for the first time, and the Kiss FM frequency was a big part of that.
The answer to the question: “What kind of music does Kiss FM play?” has unfortunately changed quite drastically over the years. To begin with, Kiss FM radio was dedicated to reggae, soul, and other music that couldn’t find a place on more conventional stations. This created a lot of complexity for the station at the time. According to Lindsay Wesker, Kiss FM gave black musicians a place where they could perform and celebrate their music freely. The station reinvigorated the careers of soul legends and opened the door for new creators.
Over the years, acts like James Brown thanked Kiss FM and DJs like Norman Jay for their enthusiastic support of their music. Unfortunately, while the public and the artists of the day loved Kiss FM, the government made it incredibly difficult for the programme to get a legal license. Racism was still a significant problem at the time, and the IBA (the Radio Authority) demanded that the Kiss FM Radio Station would need to prove its value if it wanted to be on air.
It took a great deal of documentary evidence, correspondence, press campaigns, and petitions to eventually convince the UK that Kiss FM should be granted a license.
Unfortunately, the licensing of the Kiss FM frequency seemed to also lead to the destruction of everything the original radio stood for. EMAP, a new owner of the station, started to rebrand the Kiss FM experience in 1998.
What is Kiss FM? Re-imagining a cult symbol
As a pirate radio station, Kiss FM was the beloved go-to channel for cult followers across London. People used to display the stickers of the illegal programme in their car windows. However, when EMAP took control in the late 1990s, everything started to change.
One of the most controversial signs of change in Kiss FM history, happened when the station threw an award-winning disc jockey at the time out of his job simply because he was “black.”
Only a short time after he won the Sony Gold Breakfast Presenter of the year award, Steve Jackson was removed from his position at Kiss FM Radio, and taken out of the building by security. According to Dee Ford and financial directors at the time, Jackson was being removed on economic and organisational grounds as a result of the company’s restructuring strategy.
Steve Jackson originally joined Kiss FM in 1986, when it was still an illegal pirate radio station. In 1990, the company gained a broadcasting license that required it to change the material it played by at least 30%. As a DJ, Jackson went from strength to strength, playing an incredible array of music and helping to boost audience figures significantly until 1997.
However, when Kiss FM received a new license in 1988, meaning it no longer had to play original music, everything changed. EMAP radio quickly attempted to sweep many black presenters from its programming environment. According to the station, they felt that “peak time white presenters” would be better suited to the new image that they wanted to create.
Jackson wasn’t dismissed because of his inability to deliver a great show. According to official statements, he was removed from the show entirely because he was black. None of the non-white presenters removed from the station at the time were offered alternative methods of employment. Additionally, Kiss FM also moved its offices to central London. The range of changes led to criticism from listeners and presenters alike.
The second rebrand of the Kiss FM Radio Station
EMAPs “rebrand” of the Kiss FM Radio Station was accompanied by a decision to revamp and refresh most of the station’s music policies, with a focus on a more accessible and upbeat sound. According to the Kiss MD of the time, Bill Griffin, the station had become too “dark” because of its focus on hip-hop and urban music. The business wanted to make sure that they were attracting a wider range of audience members.
While various presenters were removed from station during this part of Kiss FM history, many chose to leave of their own accord, believing that the changes implemented were too significant for their tastes. Listeners in the late 90s said that Gordon Mac’s final show on the 20th of March in 1998 marked the spiritual end of Kiss FM, although the radio station is still technically running today.
EMAP also launched a second rebrand of Kiss FM Radio in September 2006, which included a new logo, and an increased focus on dance music and specialist shows. The relaunch was also accompanied by a rebrand of the sister dance stations that Kiss was associated with at the time. Vibe 101 and Vibe 105-108 became Kiss 101 and Kiss 105-108.
According to the marketing team for Kiss FM Radio in 2006, the new changes were introduced to address the falling number of listeners paying attention to the station at the time. The company needed a new way to make sure that Kiss was still competitive in a growing market for London music. In 2010, Ofcom approved a request from Kiss FM’s new owner, Bauer radio, which allowed them to drop local programming from their stations and create a national brand.
On November 2012, David Rodigan – one of the few remaining members of Kiss FM that had been with the radio station since its launch, resigned. He claimed that the “marginalisation of reggae music” had become a common concern on the station.
How does Kiss FM make money?
Like all FM radio stations, Kiss FM has always been free for its listeners to tune into. This often presents the question of how such a station would raise the money required to pay music royalties and continue supporting DJs. Advertising was the primary source of revenue for Kiss FM Radio. The company currently returns about £8 for every £1 spent on their sponsored campaigns, according to the Kiss FM Radio Station website.
Over the years, Kiss FM has hosted countless audio advertisements, responsible for the bulk of the revenue that the business has generated. These ads played between shows and music sessions earned different amounts of money depending on the nature of the marketing scheme, and the length of time the ad ran for.
Companies like Kiss FM also rely on sponsorship deals too. Many companies often pay radio stations to have their names associated with popular artists and programs. Part of the reason that the Kiss FM Radio Station was rebranded, was that the company wanted to attract more paid promotion and sponsorship options form a more extensive range of audiences. As an urban station, the company was concerned that it wasn’t reaching enough people.
Kiss FM also frequently hosts events that allow it to generate additional income. For instance, hundreds of thousands of people turn up to the live shows hosted by Kiss each year. Kisstory is currently the stations biggest event, with more than 50 dates around the world each year. The venues often sell out very quickly.
Top Kiss FM presenters through the years
Kiss FM Radio has earned a reputation for its countless fantastic presenters over the years, including the award-winning presenter, Steve Jackson, mentioned above. Other notable Kiss FM presenters have included:
Rickie Haywood Williams, Melvin Odoom and Charlie Hedges: This team came together to host the weekday breakfast show until 2019. The three presenters were plucked out of nowhere to the front of the Kiss 100 morning slot in a trial run during 2006. According to data from the Kiss FM Radio Station, they quickly earned nearly 2 million listeners. Melvin, Charlie, and Rickie left Kiss this year after a record-breaking 10-year stint hosting the breakfast show. They will now be taking over the evening show on BBC Radio 1.
Patrick Forge: Patrick Forge hosted a two-hour show on Sunday nights for several years, between 1988, and 2010. He played acid jazz, soul music, alongside other underground music and modern records. He was one of the longest-serving DJ hosts on the station.
John Digweed: Digweed was a part of the Kiss FM Radio lineup between 2000 and 2011. He hosted a two-hour show playing trance and progressive house music, including live music from his own gigs. The second hour of the show was dedicated to a specific guest each week, including well-known DJs and new talents.
DJ EZ: Between the year 2000 and August 2014, DJ EZ hosted a weekly garage show on Kiss FM that included a combination of classic and current tracks taken from the UK scene. He also hosted a second show every week that was focused on Bassline.
Logan Sama: Logan Sama was the first disc jockey ever to host a show dedicated to Grime music. The programme ran on Monday nights between 12 am and 1 am and it became a platform for some of the most exciting talents of the era, including Lethal B, Dizzee Rascal, and many others. The show regularly pulled in a large number of listeners. However, in 2014, Sama left the radio station to join BBC Radio 1Xtra.
The future for Kiss FM
Many people who appreciated the diversity and cultural impact of the original Kiss FM Radio Station believe that the channel died when Gordan Mac completed his final show in 1998. Other fans say that the problems with Kiss FM began from the moment that its first rebrand began. The removal of legends like Steve Jackson from the show was a clear sign that something was going wrong.
However, despite these concerns, Kiss FM remains to be a relatively popular radio station today, available on the FM frequency as always. While people have issued concerns that the FM frequency will soon be phased out for digital music, the BBC and various other UK stations have said that they want to hold onto the FM band for as long as possible.
Kiss FM evolved over the years from being an urban cult icon to a more conventional radio station brand. However, its history is far from over. The channel is continually rolling out new shows for its committed listeners. In 2019, the company introduced a new radio morning breakfast show with Tom and Daisy.
Of course, Kiss FM isn’t the urban cult icon it once was. Like many companies, the business has evolved over the years. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s still the “Beat of the UK”?
Kiss FM FAQ
Q: Where is Kiss FM based?
A: Kiss FM is located in branches throughout London, Bristol, East Anglia, and the Severn Estuary.
Q: Who owns Kiss FM?
A: For a while, Kiss FM was owned by Gordon Mac, and EMAP. Today, the Kiss FM Radio Station belongs to Bauer Radio.
Q: What is the Kiss FM frequency?
A: 11DAB for England Wales and Northern Ireland, 12A DAB for Scotland or 100 FM for London, 97.2 FM for Bristol, and 105.6-106.1 – 106.4-107.7 FM for East Anglia
Q: What is Kiss TV?
A: Kiss also has a television broadcasting service called Kiss TV. The channel showcases music from the latest stars, urban music and more. There are also live shows and concert performances available to watch on the channel.
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