In the peak of the pandemic in November 2020 Kiss FM brought back specialist music programming to their evening schedules. Kisshistorian and life-long Kiss fan Andrew “Charlie” Charles looks back at the DJs, presenters and music that were propelled into the mainstream from the underground via Kiss.
Autumn 2020 was very different to anything we have experienced before and we were all living in an ‘alternative’ universe where cutting shapes or having a kiss on the dancefloor was definitely not advised, or encouraged.
However there was a slight glimmer of hope, there was once again a place where you could virtually have a dance, and have a peck on the cheek a few hours after sunset. Kiss FM (UK) the dance, black and pop music radio network once again began showcasing programming which brought them to the dance over three decades ago.
Kiss Nights showcased new specialist music shows covering Drum & Bass, Afrobeats, Grime, Hip Hop, Dance and Garage from leading DJs and superstars in their fields such as Canadian DJs and turntablists A-Trak and Deadmau5, top electronic production music duo Gorgon City, Defected Records Radio presenter and artist Sam Divine, Shosh, UK Garage mixer and producer DJ Q, Drum & Bass DJ and producer duo Hybrid Minds, and current Kiss resident DJ — Majestic alongside many more specialists.
For many long time listeners and fans of Kiss their specialists shows were not just a part of Kiss folklore, but we’re are also the driving force and strength of the radio station, and iconic British youth brand that pushed underground tracks into the mainstream.
In the midst of the pandemic in 2020 Kiss passed two historic milestones.
The first milestone was that Kiss started life as a pirate radio station thirty-five years prior in 1985, where the concept for the station was born over a meal between friends the ‘Godfather of Dance’ Gordon Mac, Tosca Jackson and George Power. The line-up of DJs on pirate Kiss reads today like a cultural and influential Hall of Fame which includes Norman Jay, Trevor Nelson, Jazzie B who as we know later found international stardom with Soul II Soul, the high-profile DJ and in-demand remixer Paul “Trouble” Anderson, Coldcut, Judge Jules, Steve Jackson, and many others who joined Kiss from other London pirate stations of the time such as JFM and TKO.
I vividly remember whilst recording a weekly specialist black music show for my Dad on BBC Radio London where my pocket money job was to pause the tape whenever the on-air DJ spoke. I would scan the dial in between, and on one occasion I stumbled across a radio station which played as I described it as “cool music my older sister and brothers liked”. That station would turn out to be Kiss, and for a period of time, I would seek out Kiss, whenever it was on-air, and I was hooked, and became a lifelong fan.
The popularity of Kiss as a pirate could not be denied any longer, and the pirate station ceased broadcasts at midnight on New Year’s Eve in 1988, in order to apply for one of the London-wide commercial radio licences. At first Kiss missed out on the first licence awarded in 1989, however Kiss was successful in winning a full-time London-wide radio licence the second time around on 18th December 1989.
Kiss became the envy of every pirate radio station in the land from John O’Groats to Land’s End, as well as becoming a new radio alternative and challenger to the likes of BBC Radio 1 and Capital Radio in London.
Finally there was no need to scramble around the dial for other pirate stations to find your specialist music fix, or record the token weekly offering from graveyard shows on legal stations. Kiss arrived on (100FM) in London as Britain’s first 24-hour dance and black music radio station which came to life at midday on Saturday 1st September 1990, the second historic milestone reached by Kiss in 2020, as a legal broadcaster for thirty years.
The biggest draw to Kiss throughout most of its broadcasting life was the strength, depth and knowledge of its specialist music shows and presenters.
In its new legal status Kiss had the task of convincing ninety percent of its audience who were listening to the station for the very first time that it offered a strong alternative to mainstream radio, and that it was the only destination for specialist dance and black music on the airwaves in London and the surrounding areas. Well Kiss hit its first year audience target of one million listeners per week in its first six months on-air which was an amazing achievement for a station launching during a recession.
Long time fans of Kiss fondly remember their favourite specialist shows on the station as they were the go to place to hear all of the cutting edge and pre-release tunes through a variety of specialist shows covering everything from house, hip-hop, swingbeat, soul, R&B, techno, reggae and many other genres in the broad church of Kiss.
The flagship specialist weekday evening shows on Kiss in the nineties usually started at 7pm and would feature a chart rundown in the first thirty minutes from specialist record shops around the capital who sold singles on US imports, and UK promos. I would listen religiously to the specialist charts, and make a note of the tracks I liked, and then once a month I would travel up to London to buy the pre-release tracks. For imports I would go HMV in Oxford Circus, and for promos I would go to the specialist record shops in the West End. Doing this regular ritual I released that I had turned into my Dad, who would go to Shepherd’s Bush Market in West London once a month to buy new soca and calypso records.
The specialist reggae, house, hip-hop, and street soul charts would then be followed by the specialist presenter’s selection of pre-release and classic tracks from their respective scenes. One of the most memorable Kiss specialist shows was the immensely popular ‘House That Jack Built’ presented by the station’s most popular DJ at the time Steve Jackson. This was a “weekday rave on the radio” featuring music from the acid house and rave scene, and was the first to play the likes of Prodigy’s “Charly”, Kicks Like A Mule’s “The Bouncer” which became a UK Top 10 hit, Liquid’s “Sweet Harmony” and many others tracks including Smart E’s “Sesame’s Treet” which was also championed on Steve’s daytime show, and as a result charted at number 2 in the UK Top 40 in the summer of 1992.
As the house music scene progressed, so did the ‘House That Jack Built’ show by playing more stateside house, and early bassline garage tracks in particular many from an emerging New York DJ and producer at the time Todd Edwards. And from the UK the show played exclusively one of the very first releases from a dance outfit from Brixton who went under the guise of “Ratcliffe” with a track called “Back To The City”. This particular duo would go on to be known as “Basement Jaxx”.
Kiss’s specialist rap and hip-hop flagbearers in the 90s Max LX and Dave VJ also broke crossover hits on their weekly show which championed the scene from both the US and UK playing tracks and having exclusive interviews with the likes of LL Cool J, De La Soul, Salt n Pepa, Gangstar, Black Twang, London Posse, Snoop Dogg, The Fugees, The Black Eye Peas, Bustarhymes, and many others. For me the tracks which stood out the most played by Max and Dave first were Kriss Kross’s “Jump”, and Onyx “Slam” which introduced moshing to the hip-hop scene, and the now iconic “Jump Around” by the House of Pain which greatly helped the record label XL Recordings get off the ground when the track was signed from Tommy Boys Records.
Rodigan’s Reggae was the longest running Kiss specialist show which lasted for 22 years, and the knowledge and enthusiasm of David Rodigan the world’s number one reggae DJ is a prime example of specialists championing tracks which crossed over into the mainstream such as Beenie Man’s “Who Am I”, Dawn Penn’s “You Don’t Love Me (No! No! No!), and Shaggy’s cover of the John Folkes classic 1958 song “Oh Carolina” which went into the UK charts at number 1 in March 1993.
Trevor Nelson retired his “Madhatter” moniker, and rare groove music selection from the Kiss pirate days to champion the emerging R&B, soul and swingbeat scene on the legal Kiss in London on his essential listening “Street Soul” show where the likes of Blackstreet, Brandy, Mary J Blige, Jodeci, Omar, Beverley Knight, Bel Biv Devoe, Toni Toni Tone, Usher and other acts from both sides of the Atlantic who were played on UK radio for the very first time. Most notably would be spot radio plays of tracks from an emerging early 90s soul-funk band known as Jamiroquai, and a UK Promo 12-inch single of “Return of The Mack” by Mark Morrison played on one Trevor’s final shows on Kiss in late 1995, before his transition to BBC Radio 1 the following year.
The massive array of Kiss specialist shows in the past were “appointment to listen to” programmes for many fans, and by the mid-90s the shows were grouped together to complement current and emerging music styles into distinctive programme zones;
Ruffcuts was were radical rap, hip, jungle and reggae were provided by Max LV & Dave VJ, Fabio & Grooverider, DJ Hype, Kenny Ken, Randall Jumpin’ Jack Frost, and cult-legendary post Saturday night clubbing reggae selectors Mannaseh.
House Nation featured an incomparable strong specialist line up of superstar DJ in the making Judge Jules, along with Steve Jackson, Graham Gold, Bobbi n Steve with their uptempo stateside garage selection, Sarah HB, Pete Wardman, Tony De Vit and one of the pioneering mixers and clubland royalty Paul “Trouble” Anderson whose weekly Saturday night two-hour commercial free mix show which ran for almost a decade was an essential pre-clubbing listen for Londoners.
Soul Underground was the destination for the growing number of fans of R&B, Swingbeat, and Street Soul from unsung soul radio heroes like Kiss head honcho Gordon Mac, Angie Dee, Daddy Bug, Fat Freddie M, Chris Phillips, Trevor Nelson, and Jazzie B with the excellent “Original Funky Dredd Show” which showcased exclusive dubplates of ragga and dancehall acapellas being used over R&B and hip-hop instrumentals, alongside new and classic UK & US soul tracks. And there was also the highly entertaining and passionate selector and mixer Matt White who through his work as an A&R and Club Promotions Manager at Polydor Records played and interviewed the likes of Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, Jennifer Lopez and Eminem on UK radio for the very first time on his “Ghetto Style On Your Dial” show.
Lost Generation featured alternative dance, ambient and techno from Kiss stalwarts such as one of the highly regarded and well respected figures in British Club Culture Colin Faver, alongside Colin Dale with his excellent “Abstract Dance” show, and one of the world’s most respected house and techno producer and club DJs, Carl Cox.
Inner Visions showcased a Sunday evening alternative listening experience with acid jazz, trip-hop, deep soul, anything with a chilled vibe from record label owner Gilles Peterson, and his Dingwalls DJ partner Patrick Forge with “The Cosmic Jam”, Dr Bob Jones with “The Surgery”, and Joey Jay with his chilled roots and upfront reggae selection under the banner of “The Word, The Sound, The Power”.
For a short period of time the Kiss listening experience was also being consumed outside of London in certain areas of the country such as Manchester on Kiss 102, and Kiss 105 in Yorkshire, and featured specialist shows from the likes of Hacienda resident DJ David Dunne, Drum & Bass producer and DJ Marcus Intalex, dance music group 808 State, and one of the UK’s pioneers of the rave scene, Graeme Park.
Kiss continued to evolve its specialist music shows, and embraced new music developments which included the Speed Garage scene of the late 90s. The genre was championed by new Kiss recruits Tuff Jam (Karl “Tuff Enuff” Brown & Matt “Jam” Lamont), The Dreem Team (DJ Spoony, Timmi Magic & Mikee B), and DJ EZ who hosted specialist garage music shows on Kiss for over a decade, and grew a loyal audience and fanbase.
As many loyal Kiss specialists went on to pastures new by the turn of the century, the line-up further evolved with the likes of Shortee Blitz, DJ Skully, Swerve, Tall Paul, Seb Fontaine, Da Firin Squad, and the world’s number one trance DJ Armand Van Burren with his critically acclaimed “A State of Trance” show.
And in recent years Kiss has been at the forefront of emerging scenes such as the grime scene which was showcased by one of the genre’s leading flagbearers Logan Sama, and his Kiss Grime show featured the likes of Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Tinie Tempah, and Wretch 32, and attracted high listening audience figures, and saw content from the show reach in excess of 20 million views on social media, and regular high volumes of ‘Listen Again’ plays through the Kiss Kube.
Kiss has now gone back to its roots with Kiss Nights. In order for specialist music revolution to continue we not only have to evolve, but we also have to take a step back, and look at what brought us to the dance in the place, as I mentioned earlier.
It’s refreshing to see that Kiss Nights acknowledges that specialist music shows are important and are needed and appreciated by the audience it serves now more than ever as they are constantly seeking out new music and the next big thing.
Former Radio 1 Controller Ben Cooper, who is now the Group Content Director at Bauer Media the company which owns Kiss told the Radio Today podcast in November 2020 that he was always a fan of Kiss from a far from its launch over 30 years ago. He also praised the return of specialist programming to Kiss saying, “Kiss Nights is really important for commercial radio, and to make sure that we are not just a playlist or music format, we need moments in the schedule that really stand out”.
As an iconic musical hero of mines once said “in this great future, you can’t forget your past”.
Kiss Nights will be on every Sunday to Thursday from 9pm, and on Fridays and Saturdays from 7pm. To find out more, and to see the full schedule click here