If Gordon McNamee had ever been featured on What’s My Line, it is
unlikely he would have been unmasked as a corporate high-flyer.
As managing director of Emap’s London-based dance radio station Kiss 100
FM, you could easily come across ‘Mac’ hanging around clubs at 2am. But
if you did, you’d expect him to hand you a flyer or sell you a T-shirt.
His shoulder-length dreadlocks make him look like he ought to be one of
the band of protesters trying to block the construction of the Newbury
But the truth is that south Londoner McNamee is one of Britain’s great
entrepreneurial class. Kicked out of school at the age of 13, he
launched a series of businesses before leading Kiss from being a pirate
radio station to a legal licence-holder at the age of 30.
In the five years since Kiss obtained that licence, McNamee has provided
an object lesson in how to target 15- to 24-year-olds with very little
wastage - although he might not phrase it like that.
Mac’s activities at Kiss have been wide-reaching. On the back of the
London station, he has built a national presence through licensing the
name to regional partners. He has also overseen a sponsorship deal with
brands such as The Guardian, Holsten, Foster’s Ice, Kahlua and Levi’s.
Sponsorship and event promotion make up about 40% of revenue.
He has also recently pushed through the launch of a magazine called The
Lick and taken the Kiss brand on to television with a nightly show on
the Mirror Group’s Live TV.
Kiss 100 was launched during the first wave of commercial radio
expansion in London and became profitable two years ago. Kiss reaches
just under one million listeners a week - equivalent to a 3.7% audience
Although the format is dance-oriented, there is a marked difference
between its daytime and night-time programmes, which McNamee sums up as
‘revenue by day, reputation by night’.
Daytime strategy is to drive up average listening hours through more
mainstream playlists, while at night a stable of around 30 DJs a week
operate with complete stylistic freedom. ‘We use DJs that are leaders in
their types of music and we run it like a football team,’ he says. ‘If
they keep scoring goals, you don’t kick them off the team.’
It is the night-time output that defines the Kiss brand as loosely anti-
establishment. And it is flexible enough to accommodate the inevitable
shifts in taste across house and soul, jungle and techno. ‘The youth
audience change the badge on their jacket every couple of months. We
reprogramme to keep up,’ explains McNamee.
In the extremely competitive London market, he says Kiss has been left
untouched by the promotional battle between Capital, Heart and Virgin.
The Radio Authority is poised to award another London licence which many
expect will go to an indie-music format such as XFM or Festival, in
which Kiss has a 20% stake. ‘There is a need for an alternative rock
licence,’ says McNamee, ‘and if Festival gets it, we could do a good
joint sell against Capital, which has the most 15- to 24-year-olds.’
Outside London, Kiss has expanded on a number of fronts. It has a 20%
stake in a bid for the east Midlands regional licence and has done
franchise deals with Manchester-based Faze.
Faze licenses the Kiss name for Kiss 102 in Manchester and Kiss 105,
which launches in Yorkshire next February. ‘Faze came to us because so
many people knew the name Kiss in Manchester,’ says McNamee. ‘Our
research shows the brand also comes up strong in Leeds and Sheffield.’
Kiss marketing strategy is underpinned by detailed lifestyle data from a
BMPP research panel of 15- to 24- year-olds called RAW. That said, it is
important with Kiss 100’s target audience that any marketing is not seen
as overt or exploitative and activities are designed to create the aura
of belonging to an exclusive, trendsetting club.
Events such as Kiss in Ibiza, which attracts 1000 people to a festival
of clubbing each summer, are created to reinforce that perception.
Likewise, The Lick can only be received by calling up the station.
‘Although it is free, the distribution mechanism encourages loyalty to
the Kiss lifestyle,’ says McNamee.
Those that know him say McNamee’s strength is an instinctive
understanding that Kiss is not just a radio format, but a way of life.
Although the station has an extensive promotional strategy, he insists:
‘We don’t have Kiss FM nights at clubs, or jeeps with Kiss FM painted
all over. For us, the best form of marketing is word of mouth.’
‘Mac is the Kiss brand,’ says one agency source. ‘When he talks to
advertisers and agencies, he is streetwise, clued up and takes no crap.
That’s the same policy as the station and exactly what the London radio
1983-1984 Radio DJ and broadcaster - Sound City
1984-1985 Drive Time show host - JFM
1985-present Managing director - Kiss 100 FM