Mike Soutar will guide the hippest station in London, Anne-Marie
Kiss 100 FM has decided it wants a PR present during my interview with
its new managing director, Mike Soutar. Such preciousness is usually
guaranteed to wind a journalist up big-time, but this time I can sort of
see the point.
After all, Kiss FM has come a long way in terms of positioning,
credibility and commercial success since its heady days of pirate
broadcasting back in the 80s.
From its official launch in September 1990, Kiss FM has grown into
arguably the biggest youth radio station, nay brand, in the hippest city
in the world. The challenge now is to keep up the momentum and take Kiss
on to the next stage of growth without sacrificing its vital edge.
The last thing it wants is for Soutar, the current editor of Emap
Metro’s FHM magazine, with no experience in radio, to open his mouth and
spoil it all. It’s also the last thing the 30-year-old Soutar wants. So,
before this interview can happen, there’s a great deal of to-ing and
fro-ing. Finally, Gordon MacNamee, Kiss FM’s founder and outgoing
managing director, gives us the all-clear. But Soutar won’t talk about
his plans for the future of Kiss FM because, well, he doesn’t really
know what they are yet.
To the media buyers and clients who have yet to meet him, such
shenanigans must sound rather prima-donna-ish. So, the man knows nothing
about radio, admits to having once been Mr December for a Jackie
magazine calendar and a quick glance at that picture could probably
convince many that Soutar is just a bit of a poseur, right?
Wrong. The man has got credentials. In less than three years under his
guidance, FHM has risen from nowhere to become the best-selling men’s
magazine in an increasingly competitive market. Not bad for a bloke with
no previous experience in the sector.
Emap wants him to reproduce that winning formula for Kiss FM. Soutar’s
role is to take over the day-to-day running of the radio brand as
MacNamee shifts his focus onto developing Kiss TV. He will nurture the
brand and make sure Kiss continues to stand out in an increasingly
crowded and competitive market (watch out for the launch of Xfm this
MacNamee chose Soutar after an eight-month trawl for a managing
He’d been looking for someone with fresh ideas, energy and creative
flair but, until then, hadn’t been too impressed with what he’d found.
The two men met on a working trip to South Africa and, while there,
struck up a firm mutual respect.
’One thing I hate about radio is all the crap people in it,’ MacNamee
says in his typically forthright style. ’Mike has a good understanding
of what a brand is and how different elements work within the brand. He
understood that whole thing.’
Soutar, for his part, is engagingly star-struck. ’Gordon Mac is an
incredible guy and the fact that he was willing to entrust me with the
brand he founded over 11 years ago is immensely flattering.’
Although, nominally, Soutar becomes managing director in just a few
weeks, he will not share the dreadlocked founder’s authority. It was
always unlikely that, having conceived the baby, MacNamee would then
relinquish all parental responsibility as Kiss moved into its
adolescence. So, in his newly created role as managing director of Kiss
Enterprises, MacNamee will retain access to Kiss FM and will be
responsible for its overall strategic direction.
’We need to see if we can do more. We need to re-examine everything and
look at other ways to promote, stage events and consider if the way in
which we advertise works,’ MacNamee says.
Soutar’s role is that of a facilitator charged with bringing the sales
director, programming director and finance director together as one
cohesive unit. ’I’m used to working with small groups of committed
people. My job is to make sure the different directors can do their jobs
better or differently.
I also want Kiss to be acclaimed as the hippest radio station in the
hippest city,’ Soutar says.
First, he has a steep learning curve to climb. Before he gets his feet
properly under the managing director’s desk, Soutar will embark on a
tour of Emap’s different radio stations around the country and will
spend time shadowing the managing directors there.
Low profile as he currently is, none of the media buyers I spoke to
expressed surprise at Soutar’s shift of medium. More than ever, this
business is about developing brands through ideas, energy and talent. As
Tim Schoonmaker, Emap Radio’s chief executive puts it: ’If radio is to
grow from a
5 per cent to an 8 per cent medium, it needs more people like Mike.’
THE SOUTAR FILE
1984 D. C. Thomson, editorial assistant
1986 Virgin Records, press officer
1988 Smash Hits, staff writer
1991 Smash Hits, editor
1994 FHM, editor
1997 Kiss 100 FM, managing director