Thursday, 28 July 2011


I've been very busy over the last few weeks, countless projects on the go means weekend working and some evenings too, fortunately I love what I do, so that's all good.

However, I found time this week to read the best book ever on Pirate Radio in the early 80's & 90's,

‘KISS FM: From Radical Radio To Big Business’ by Grant Goddard (£19.99 from Amazon)

This is is the story of how Kiss morphed from a weekend only pirate into a multi-million pound brand. Expertly written by Grant Goddard who was the brains behind the successful application , and who quite brilliantly and against the odds got Kiss on air in London on the 1st September 1990. The background story is incredible, and detailed to the point of almost every reference is attributed to source. Grant like so many of us had a dream about a legal black music station in London, and this is his personal account of that struggle, with intimate details of the who, the why and the cost monetarily and emotionally, for the first management team of Kiss.

The backdrop and first chapters are also the only detailed reference published about London based pirate radio, The DTI (the enforcers) and the political background and attitude towards radio at the time.

It's a MUST read.

As a pirate DJ myself in Luton on a station called Jive FM (from 1987) I'd heard many stories about Kiss FM (the pirate), in fact James Hamilton of the Record Mirror would mention them almost every week and the talk at our local Bluebird record shop was always about "the DJs on Kiss" records started to appear that had cover notes written by their DJs, bootlegs started to appear from Coldcut and eventually "Back to life " went to number 1 in the pop charts from another Kiss DJ Jazzie B.

We were in awe of these celebrity DJs ,not least because a recent photo of their studio showed SL1200s , Wayne( the Jive boss) had always maintained that they had the same Citronic belt drive decks as us !

Whilst Kiss was seeking a licence I would remember Gordon Mac popping up on shows like Kilroy, the Kiss newsletter would arrive through my door, as would the Graphic promos (Kiss record label,whose mailing list I was on) .

I was so excited when I heard the news that Kiss had won the licence (second attempt) just before Christmas 1989. I remember listening to Pete Tong play the best records of the 80s on his Capital show (new Years Eve 1989), and at number 1 "Kiss" by Prince ! The stage was set for the radio station we thought would be the answer to everything...

Unfortunately I was on a badly timed holiday when Kiss first came on the air on the 1st September, so I was a week late tuning in. Now bear in mind that I'd heard so much about Kiss, but never heard it, like so many people . So , it was with incredible anticipation I tuned into Kiss that first Sunday night I returned home.

I was terribly disappointed, Danny Rampling was on , who I'd heard was the number 1 authority in house music and the legendary Acid House explosion from 1988. What struck me instantly was how boring his voice was, when he finally did stop talking and play a record it got even worse, but I thought to myself he'll start mixing it up now .... Wrong again, in fact the monotone drivel continued between every record...mmmm I eventually went to bed.

The next morning I was up at 7 already for the Kiss breakfast show, now Graham Gold was a friend of the Jive owner Wayne, and his voice popped up a lot on radio station ads that we played, however I'd met him when we did a Jive gig some months before at the Coliseum in Luton, and I wasn't quite sure why he was on Kiss. I remember him entering the club wearing Lee jeans and an anorak, not quite the look I was expecting. His music choice that night was also incredibly safe for a pirate night, we had a quick conversation about the impending launch of Kiss and wished him well. I knew after a letter was published in the Record Mirror that he was uniting his bid for a licence (under S.O.U.L) with Kiss, but I was still slightly concerned at the time that he didn't fit into the idea I had in my mind of what Kiss stood for.

The first record I heard on the Kiss breakfast show was "mamma's gonna knock you out" off the recently released LL Cool J album, I thought to myself "this is more like it, Cool J at breakfast" , however the bits between the music really did leave me baffled. Firstly Gordon was a very slick jock, but that was about the limit of his radio expertise. The banter was supplied by someone called Mark Webster, who no one had ever heard of. As a 20 year old listening for the first time, it sounded like 2 old men on the radio, conversations about Gordon's starter motor on his Fiesta ensued...I left for work wondering if this really was "radical radio"

That evening I returned to hear Dave Pearce on drive, another slick jock but yet again he was nothing new ,we'd heard him for years on Radio London. Kiss was wearing off.... the specialists I hoped would be better, Richie Rich had a massive import called Salsa House that we all loved, and was a famous hip hop DJ, although yet again I'd never heard him on the radio. I remember listening with an open mouth as he affected an American accent for his links, then tried to diss Tim Westwood after plugging a gig about him and Westwood on the same bill "Richie Rich vs Westwood you know it's going to be....." he then started a big track by EPMD called Manslaughter, the record started with those words....unfortunately Richie had the turntable set at 45 instead of 33...

That weekend I checked out Gordon Mac (the station MD) who played a record and said " Do you know what, I had to actually buy that record, can you believe it ?" Norman Jay (another legend) came on and managed to talk not just over the start of every record he played (completely ruining The Voices Of East Harlem -Wanted Dead or Alive) but at the end and sometimes in the middle too, we'd always thought as Pirate DJs we should let the music do the talking...

I noticed there was a real absence of any mixing on the shows too, that was something I was really looking forward to across the board at Kiss, but to me it just sounded like Chiltern Radio with worse jocks but better music.

And here lay the problem that Grant was facing, this kind of radio station had never been done before, no one really knew who should it be aiming at. Was it a specialist music station or a station aimed at a young trend clubbing crowd? Were DJs like Graham Gold & Dave Pearce really cool enough for either? Was hiring the complete DJ line up of the original Kiss 94 loyal or just foolish?

One thing is for sure, the money men backing the station wanted results and fast.

At this point in time although some would argue otherwise, the initial dance/soul/hip-hop bubble had burst, the summer of love had passed and now for the first time the record companies were making commercial "black" music specifically for radio. Where as before the jocks were making the hits it became the jocks playing the hits. In tandem to this Capital had adopted it's "music power" monkier complete with groundbreaking production (firstly voiced by Paul Mckenna and latterly an enormous US VO) . In addition they had installed the first multi-band processor on-air in London, this gave them unrivaled punch and presence on-air. The jocks were talking less than ever and playing more "black" music in daytime. I remember flicking between the end of Kiss breakfast and the start of the Capital top 10 at 10 and the profile in audio terms was so much bigger. Listening to Capital was an event. They even used reverb on their voices - how cool I thought !

It's really interesting in this book to see that Grant actually knew then that the future of Kiss was young London, and also he knew that to build an audience, the audience have to know what they're getting whenever they tune in. My old boss (Luis Clark- Heart network) once explained to a colleague that radio is similar to Coke, whenever you buy a Coke you know exactly what it's going to taste like, no matter where you are, you could be in Africa or Paris, it doesn't matter, Coke tastes the same. That's how brands are built.

Listening to Kiss now (21 years on) and you'd probably say they've actually got it right, presenters who know the music and are more importantly able to identify with the audience, because some of them are even the same age. The production is the best on the planet and a lot of the music is expertly mixed together even during daytimes.

However no amount of grandstanding to the current Kiss , can diminish the fact that without the original Pirate winning the licence and securing 1 million listeners in it's first few months on air, it would not exist today. After reading this book I understand that the author contributed very significantly to both.

Buy this book.