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By Lauren Wise
Finding Americana music on Internet radio is like looking for a bucket of nails at Restoration Hardware: There's just something that ain't right about searching for stuff that basic and impervious to innovation in a place so slick, contemporary and self-consciously cool.
Unless, that is, you stumble upon the stream for KBSZ (kbsz-am.com), an old-timey, 300-watt AM station operating out of Wickenburg that just recently got in on this newfangled streaming audio stuff and hasn't altered its format one smidgen for the information superhighway.
On an average morning, following the daily fishing report at 6:45 a.m., you're likely to hear station owner Pete Peterson, an alumnus of Wickenburg's century-old little red Garcia Schoolhouse, spinning classics like the original "Susie Q" by Louisiana rockabilly singer Dale Hawkins paired with a new tune by 18-year-old yodeling queen Kata Hay, followed by a folksy commercial for Bud Shaul's Saddlery or the Rancho Bar 7 ("Plenty of choices for good eatin'").
"It's totally small-town," says Miss Holley King, the spunky host of Saturday morning's "Rockabilly and Beyond" show. "And everybody in town just walks in. You could shut the door when you're on the air, but the people around here would just think that's rude. It cracks me up!"
King -- a former Tempe scenester who, in her day job as a Wickenburg stained-glass artist, goes by her real name Keri Plezia -- is the only jock at KBSZ who adopts a tongue-in-cheek persona before settling behind the mic. Everybody else on the air, she insists, is for real.
Wally and LaVerne Storm, a veteran song-and-dance couple whose bio boasts they've "entertained in RV parks, retirement centers and nursing homes" around Arizona, host an hour of '30s ballroom swing tunes every Monday. Marshal Jack Allen is a genuine singing cowboy who performs an afternoon show with a puppet hound dog named Lil' Red, and Peterson's brother Jack is a former rodeo clown who inserts weekly rodeo reports between hits by the likes of Bob Wills, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.
There's no pretense of hipness -- a bad-ass evergreen like "Folsom Prison Blues" will segue right into the merry melody of Kay Kyser's "Jingle, Jangle, Jingle" -- and zero sense of political correctness. Streaming from a town notorious as the rehab center of the Southwest for its hideaway retreats like the Meadows clinic ("We've been getting a lot of Kate Moss sightings lately," chuckles King), it's not unusual to hear an extreme drinking anthem such as Hank Thompson's "A Six Pack to Go" blaring away at 11 a.m.
Even the signal is fittingly lo-fi. "Our engineers were kind of scratching their heads over how to get the streaming audio to work," King says. "So finally I said to our Webmaster, 'Can't you just plug that little Radio Shack radio into your computer?' And it worked! It's low-quality AM, but who cares? I'm playing mono!"
King says the feed was started up to give Wickenburg's sizable snowbird population a taste of the town while summering back home in Illinois or Montana, but anticipates the real rootsy sound of the station may attract some young city slickers longing for authenticity in their alt-country.
"I just hope we can talk our boss into springing for a bigger server if we start getting more hits," she says. "He's a lot more into his horses than all this technology stuff."