The London Pirates

Kiss FM (94 FM, 95.3 FM, 100 FM) 1985 – 1988
Mailing list (1986): 37 Grand Parade Mailing list (1987):
29 Dysons Road Green Lanes PO Box 689
London   N18 Haringey         London   SW6 6HP
London   N4


Coverage: Londonwide

Jingles: “KISS FM, dead on your dial, 94FM”

DJs: Tim Westwood, Richie Rich, Joey Jay, Norman Jay (Shake and Fingerpop), Gordon McNamee (founder), Jay Strongman, Trevor ‘Madhatter’ Nelson, Derek B, Steve Jackson, Matt Black & Jonathan More (Coldcut), Colin Faver, Jasper ‘The Vinyl Junkie’, Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson, Dean Savonne, Tony Harrison (aka DJ Tee [Harris]), Danny Rampling, Judge Jules (Family Funktion), Max LX and  Dave VJ, Bobbie and  Steve (The Zoo Experience), Jazzy B (Soul II Soul), Patrick Forge, Colin Dale, Bob Jones, Daddy Bug, Mannasseh, Tony Farsides, Heddi, DJ André, Nick Power, Tosca, Paul Walton, Selwyn Samuels (aka DJ  Selwyn), Tony Monson, Eli Hord.


Of all the 80s London pirate stations perhaps the most well known is Kiss FM. It was founded by ex-JFM DJ Gordon ‘Mac’ with the aim of filling the musical gap left by the closures of JFM, Solar and Horizon. Modelled on its famous New York namesake, Kiss soon became one of the most popular weekend stations and was highly influential on the London dance music scene of the mid to late 80s. Its DJs created the Rare Groove phenomena which, along with break beats, did much to shape the sound of Hip Hop in the capital and further afield. Outside of the station, many of its DJs such as Jazzy B and Coldcut had or produced hit records.

Gordon Mac presented the first ever show on the morning of Monday 7th October 1985. Three days later it was raided by the DTI. Like LWR, Kiss became one of the most heavily raided stations of the time, and had to broadcast at different times and from various locations to stay one step ahead of the DTI.  Kiss soon abandoned the original 24 hour weekday schedule and from 22nd March 1986 confined itself to weekend only transmissions, which proved more successful. Broadcast time lengths were adjusted according to the circumstances and as its popularity grew it transmitted from 9am Friday through to 1am Monday.
 
The station’s reputation was further enhanced when it came second to Capital in the ‘best radio station’ category of the London Evening Standard annual readers’ poll of 30th December 1987. For an unlicensed broadcaster this was exceptional. Audience number estimates ranged from between 200,000 - 500,000, but accurate figures are difficult to come by for the pirates.

Kiss was mainly self-financed through regular club nights the DJs ran including a mid-week Rap review at Dingwalls in Camden, as well as radio advertising, merchandise and many one-off gigs and parties. The comedian Lenny Henry* was one of Kiss FM’s early backers and incurred DTI disapproval through being made Honorary Kiss President, but in the end he withdrew his support for their bid to win a licence, much to Mac’s disappointment. 

Gordon Mac made a deal to combine Solar Radio’s bid for a London-wide licence with his own in order to strengthen their chances. It was a shrewd move as it also meant one less competitor in the scramble to apply for one. Kiss closed on 31st December 1988 in order to meet the conditions of application. When the winners were announced in July 1989 it lost out to London Jazz Radio, but on 7th August the Government created two extra licenses, with an application deadline of 13th November. In mid December ’89 Kiss finally won a license and its days as a pirate were over.

Hip Hop was well represented on Kiss and among the DJs playing it was Richie Rich who, from at least 1986, hosted ‘The Home Beat Hip Hop Show’ between 9-11pm on a Saturday night and occasionally on Sundays between 1-3pm (Trevor Madhatter later had this slot). He would play old and new tracks as well as his own cut-ups and mixes. From midnight on Saturday Max LX would also play Hip Hop. In December 1986 DJ Tee would play a Saturday show of House and Hip Hop between 9-11pm and in 1987 on Sundays from 3-5pm. Additionally, Derek B had his ‘Good Groove Show’ at the weekend. 

One of the most influential Kiss DJs was Norman Jay who hosted ‘The Original Rare Groove Show’ on Saturday afternoons between 1-3pm where he shared his love of James Brown and obscure Jazz, Funk, R&B, and Soul. This coincided with the increasing awareness and knowledge of the break beats that formed the backbone of most 80s Hip Hop. Many of these records were good tunes in their own right, and Jay’s shows fuelled a new generation of collectors, eager to track down the originals not only for their instrumental breaks but also for the quality of the music. It is fair to say that his shows help revitalise the careers and UK profiles of James Brown, Bobby Byrd, the JBs, and several other artists. He famously interviewed Bobby Byrd and Vicky Anderson while they were on a UK tour and discussed the social circumstances and influences behind their music, much of which was being heavily sampled at the time by rappers. 

Tim Westwood was recruited from WBLS, and his Kiss FM shows went out on Sunday mornings between 11am-1pm. His debut appearance should have been Sunday 21st December 1986, but a DTI transmitter raid on the 20th prevented this. Once established, his show followed the same format as that of his LWR days and was an eclectic mix of Hip Hop, Funk, breaks, exclusive pre-releases, recorded interviews and old school jams and battles. There were also dedications and news of forthcoming events. Some of the interviews and live jam sessions had previously been broadcast by him on LWR. The show reflected perfectly the London music scene at that time, with many Rare Grooves and break beats featuring. He would often play ‘Ike’s Mood 1’ by Isaac Hayes and ‘Greedy Gee’ by The Brentford Allstars, the former track almost being his signature tune. Another track which got frequent airplay was ‘London Beats vol.1’ (side B) by DJ Jazzy B.

In the summer of 1987 he oversaw a series of free open air jams at Scrubs Lane NW10 (next to the prison) which were organised by Hammersmith and Fulham Council. Some of these were recorded and subsequently played on his show. One memorable session featured a DJ battle between Cutmaster Swift and DJ Pogo. He also appeared on the ‘Saturday Live’ show on BBC Radio 1.

By September ‘87, Westwood was gone, poached by Capital to fill the vacuum left by Mike Allen’s departure to LBC. Jay Strongman then replaced his Sunday show. Westwood’s final Kiss show was on Sunday 6th September, and on it he revisited many of his favourite records, including ’Breaker’s Revenge’ from his Spats days. The final track played was ‘Beat Bop’ by Rammellzee and K-Rob, which he called his ‘all-time favourite Rap record’. He began at Capital on 3rd October 1987, initially with just a 30 minute slot in the first hour of Chris Forbes’ Saturday night dance show but later being granted a separate Friday night show in January 1988. 

*Henry drew inspiration from the pirate stations to create his Delbert Wilkins TV character who ran the “Brixton Broadcasting Corporation” (aka Crucial FM).


© Copyright Lindsay (2013)