The last time Gordon Mac was interviewed by the Evening Standard, things got a bit awkward. In the mid-Nineties he borrowed a flash, chrome Mercedes to be interviewed in to discuss his pirate radio station, Kiss, hitting the airwaves on FM for the first time.
“I went for a spin pretending it was my car, only problem was, it didn’t have an FM radio!” he says.
Two decades later, and the radio entrepreneur is at it again. This time he’s taken his new station, MiSoul, onto digital radio after three years as an online entity. He still cuts a cool figure, rasta-style, grey hair streaming behind him and an open-collared shirt. This interview takes places in the more modest surrounds of the station’s studio in the Stephen Lawrence Centre in Deptford.
He’s targeting the audience who joined Kiss on its journey “from pirate to plc”, using the same music (“anything with soul — reggae, rap, R’n’B, house”) to cater for the post-clubbing generation.
“They’re served a mix of Celine Dion, Elton John and The Whispers on a Saturday night by other stations,” bemoans Mac. “We’re looking at the generation that grew up with Kiss and Choice, not the youngsters only interested in fashion, drugs and clubs. But our listeners won’t stand for a Gold-style station. They need new stuff — we call it ‘old skool to new cool’.”
As such, the station is littered with choice cuts from the likes of Bristolian super-producer Julio Bashmore and singer/songwriter Raleigh Ritchie mixed with Janet Jackson and Lisa Stansfield. Mac has used his contacts as one of the pioneers of the London soul pirate scene to assemble a roster which boasts a cluster of London club and radio DJs with a fistful of soul credentials.
“Ronnie Herel does our drive-time show — he left 1Xtra after 10 years at the BBC but he’s got a big following who came over. We have 60 of the best in the business.”
Mac is a self-confessed creative with entrepreneurial nous and has rekindled his partnership with business partner Martin Strivens, who originally helped him build Kiss.
Mac’s musical obsession started early: his first DJ set was when he was 12.
“It was a Halloween ball at the church, the vicar had no one to play so I grabbed my family’s Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin records,” he laughs.
A decade later he was on the wheels of steel at Kisses, London’s biggest black-music club, alongside DJ heroes Paul “Trouble” Anderson and Steve Walsh. Mac was simultaneously shunned by JFM and began broadcasting Kiss from a squat in Carshalton. He made brand extensions his passion with a TV channel, events and even holidays carrying the Kiss name. After selling to then media giant Emap for £43 million in 1993, Mac stayed on board until 1998 when Emap wanted more control.
Having taken its music into the mainstream, Mac experienced the classic muso emotion — a hatred of sharing with too many.
“I almost wrote a book with a friend called ‘why does winning feel so shit?’ — for years we promoted it and wanted everyone to know about it, then suddenly it doesn’t feel like yours and the mainstream cheapens it.”
Mac admits he “went crazy for a while”, travelling the world in tumultuous fashion. He then ran Z Bar in Brixton for five years, but consulting for Afro-Caribbean station Colourful Radio gave him the idea for MiSoul.
In its first three years, MiSoul has grown into one of London’s foremost online radio stations, alongside Dalston’s NTS, London Fields Radio and Shoreditch Radio.
However, moving on to DAB is significant as, from next year, its audience will be assessed by the official radio monitor, Rajar, and it can woo serious advertisers. “The future is clearly listening through portable devices. It’s new technology which drew me back, but this gives us a wider audience right now,” Mac says.
He and Strivens aim to take its modest £80,000 turnover to nearly £2 million in five years’ time, when they will begin to consider selling up. Sales will be built through advertising, events (they’ve already linked up with the Margate Soul Weekend and are hosting Mi-Biza) and video content.
If you’re dancing at the Mastermind Stage as the ground shakes beneath you at Notting Hill Carnival in a few weeks’ time, glance up. A true businessman with plenty of soul will be behind the decks.
Founded: July 2012
Business idol: Our chairman Sir Robin Miller — a motorbike and angling enthusiast who built Emap by understanding you can build on a niche.