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Mi-Soul pits itself against the big commercial stations

By James Cridland for media.info
Posted 29 June 2015, 8.48am edt

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London has a new “soulful” radio station - called Mi-Soul.

I say it has a new radio station. It isn’t, really. It’s been going for three years, actually, but last weekend it made it to actually broadcasting on the radio, rather than being stuck on the internet. It’s interesting that we still seem to care about the difference.

Mi-Soul, now on-air across London on DAB Digital Radio and online at mi-soul.com, is a well-regarded setup. It’s got many highly-respected DJs - over sixty of them.

It has solid business backing, too: it’s run by Gordon Mac and Martin Strivens. They’re the team who launched London’s Kiss FM dance station back in 1990; and Gordon has also broadcast on Choice FM, London’s former urban station. The story of both of these stations is remarkably similar.

Kiss FM - actually a pirate in 1985, but with a legit licence granted in 1990 - was launched with the help of Emap, who slowly bought all the shares of the station. Gordon Mac left Kiss in November 1997, and in early 1998 Emap moved Kiss’s studios away from their North London roots into a more corporate setting in the centre of London. This was accompanied by the slow removal of specialist programmes from the station. A once edgy station had, of course, become more commercial. It did wonders for their audience figures, but changed the ethos of the station.

Choice FM also started in London in 1990 - a smaller transmission area for Brixton in South London. Britain’s first black music station, it was independently owned, and achieved a further licence in North London in 2000. Inevitably, it became owned by Capital Radio Group, who in 2004 merged the licences and moved the station to their corporate headquarters in Leicester Square. The merger resulted in the station’s highest audience figures, but once more, something had changed. The station was rebranded as Capital Xtra in 2013.

“Much of commercial radio has migrated to the bland middle ground”, says Gordon Mac in the top of their press release. “There is a significant audience aged 30 years plus who listened to soulful music in their youth on Kiss FM/Choice and now have nowhere to go.”

The press release goes on to highlight the presenter roster, who bring individual followings and deep knowledge of their own sub-genres to the station. As the press release says: “Free from the shackles imposed by most commercial stations, they are not forced to keep interest groups happy with predictable and lacklustre playlists”.

Speaking about a year or so ago, in a piece with a negative headline about DAB, Gordon Mac also said something I’ve been talking about for a while now: how radio production is changing. “Now, with £400 of radio programming software, you can run a whole radio station. Before, you’d be paying £10-20,000 to do the same thing. So technology has made life easier and you can do a lot more for less money.”

Mi-Soul is now available on DAB in London - a platform used by over 50% of the UK. It’s available to a potential 12m people. Along, it should be said, with around another 70 stations on the platform.

The station’s broadcast server has a maximum capacity of 400 listeners, and reports a peak of 233. At lunchtime on Monday, it was showing 90 listeners tuned-in.

You can listen on mi-soul.com, where plenty of programmes are also available on-demand via MixCloud.

More information

James Cridland — James is the Managing Director of media.info, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. His website is at james.cridland.net, where you can subscribe to his weekly newsletter.
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