Gordon Mac For , a childhood love of music proved the catalyst for his part in kick-starting the UK’s commercial radio revolution. E1 Life tuned in to find out more...
Words: Eric Woollard-White Podcast: Rosie Coxshaw
Very few people working in any business can lay claim to having created the market that paved the way for all those who followed.
But in 1985, when Mac started up Kiss Radio as a pirate station along with nine other DJs, each contributing £200 as shares in the venture, commercial radio was still in its infancy.
At the time, only two other commercial radio stations existed in London: Capital Radio and LBC. By 1990, when the UK Government opened up the commercial radio market to other broadcasters, Kiss was well established and already setting the pace with its unique sound, growing audience and, ultimately, its profitability.
Not bad for a south-east London boy who freely admits he has been collecting records for as long as he’s been stealing them from his cousin.
“I had a really happy family and music was big for us,” says the man often-labelled the ‘Godfather of Music’. “I was born in the 1960s, so music was all soulful stuff like Aretha Franklin. I grew up on a diet of Dionne Warwick, Herb Alpert, love songs and, of course, reggae.”
He adds: “I think it was a big influence. My grandad was known for having a party at the drop of a hat – he would get his trilby on and dance. He was a real party animal, so that is probably where I get it from.”
As with most successful entrepreneurs, the route to success was not a linear path. Mac’s cousin Mandy, as well as being the source of those ‘borrowed’ records, was instrumental in creating the eureka moment when he realised he wanted to become a DJ.
Mac recalls: “Back in the late 60s, I went to a Butlins in Bognor Regis with my nan, my aunt and my cousin, Mandy. One night, she sneaked me out of the bedroom window and took me to the Butlins disco and I remember walking into this room. I was only about eight or something like that, and it was loud music and dark with flashing lights. Everybody was dancing and I thought: ‘Oh my God, this is where I want to be’”.
After working as a pub DJ before stepping up to clubs, Mac tried to get jobs with various radio stations without success, before he spotted the opportunity with pirate radio.
“When Kiss came online in 1985, it was a different landscape, definitely,” he recalls. “Back then, when all the stations got licences back in 1990, Kiss was the first station to make a profit and it was the most successful out of all of them.”
The accomplishments of Kiss did not go unnoticed by other radio station operators. First, Emap acquired the station, before it was sold to Bauer Media for £40 million – although Mac had already cashed in his shares ‘at a good time’ before that sale took place.
These days, Mac is still doing what he loves best: DJing, naturally. But this time, he’s pioneering in the new media space of digital radio with his Mi-Soul station. As a concept it is all-encompassing: a music platform broadcasting across London on DAB, online through its website (mi-soul.com) and mobile phone apps from a fully equipped studio based in the Stephen Lawrence Trust building.
With its team of over 70 DJs, the most experienced, credible and passionate in the industry present a wide range of ‘soulful’ music live 24/7, to audiences worldwide. The DJ team brings with it vast experience, and each DJ has their own individual followings and a deep knowledge of their sub-genres. With a fine balance between old and new music, all Mi-Soul DJs pay homage to the past, whilst actively pioneering the future.
Says Mac: “I think Mi-Soul started off as a dream, and now the dream is being realised. I began by wanting to prove a point, so I did some research on the radio market. I found that there wasn’t a station that catered for the ex-Kiss generation. Also, none of the DJs who were around at that time were active on any legal radio station. Our average age is 45 years old and they love everything from old school to new cool.”
He enthuses: “I constantly try to build a business that can earn me money and pay me a wage but it’s something that I love doing. If there’s one thing I love, it’s music. I love new music, I love hearing new music, I love talking about it and I love playing it to other people.”