Last month New Times celebrated the city with our 37th annual Best of Phoenix edition. Here are our top picks for best radio stations in Metro Phoenix.
Though KWSS' The Morning Infidelity remains Valley radio's most consistent supporter of local music on the Phoenix airwaves, KJZZ's Tiny Desert Concert proves that the local NPR affiliate has its ear to the ground, too. Inspired by NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series, TDC has profiled Valley bands like folk rockers The Senators, indie poppers Of the Painted Choir, Sedona roots band decker., indie punks Numb Bats, and punk rockers Man Hands, featuring beautiful recordings and high-quality video. The only thing we'd ask for is more installments, focusing on the diverse range of bands currently making Phoenix a place to pay attention to musically.
Best Oldies Radio Program
Cruising with the Manic Hispanic on KAJM 104.3 FM
We love the locally produced Cruising with the Manic Hispanic program, hosted by James Rivas. Featuring sensual lowrider oldies and dedications, Rivas was inspired to do radio by the classic Wolfman Jack scenes in American Graffiti. His on-air persona is less wily than the Wolf but effective, matching the vintage soul and funk like Zapp and Roger, the Delfonics, and Brenton Wood with a mellow cool unmatched on Phoenix's FM dial.
Best Jazz Radio Show
Classic Jazz with Blaise Lantana on KJZZ 91.5 FM
Tune into Phoenix's NPR affiliate on weekday nights and you'll get a treat: jazz music for hours and hours, a blend of classics from Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, and J.J. Johnson to modern talents like Nicholas Payton and Bruce Dudley. The playlist from 8 to 10 p.m. is curated by Blaise Lantana, KJZZ's music director. She's the consummate radio host. She gives just enough background information on the artists she features to sate the appetite of the curious listener but doesn't talk long enough to drive away those interested only in music. Most importantly, her voice contains an unfakeable enthusiasm, and her passion for the music she plays is contagious. It all combines to make for two hours a night of a superior jazz listening experience.
Best Rock Radio Station
KDKB 93.3 FM
Remember that awkward period after 103.9 changed its format to "All Suck All the Time" but before 93.3 decided it no longer wanted to be one of several classic rock options in the Valley? That was a dark time for alternative music in Phoenix, and it was really strange to have an online radio station sponsoring some of the biggest alternative and punk shows in the Valley for a while. Thankfully, 93.3 switched gears and decided to play more modern alternative music, and though it might not be the indie stations of many American college towns, it's certainly not bad, by any means.
Best Classic Rock Radio Station
KCDX 103.1 FM
DJ? KCDX don't need no stinkin' DJ. Mysteriously broadcasting from the desert, there's no verbiage or on-air announcing — just loads of progressive rock, AOR obscurities, classic rock hits, and deep cuts. You'll hear Graham Nash paired with Taj Mahal, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band followed by Pink Floyd, and other transitions that sensible program directors would shut down real quick. The signal doesn't come in all over the Valley, but it's worth seeking out. There are no on-air bells and whistles, but the station's site features a searchable song archive and an "Ask the Guru" button, which allows you to e-mail the station's shadowy overseer. Our e-mails, to be clear, have gone unanswered, but we figure it's kind of better that way.
Best Oldies Radio Station
KAZG 1440 AM
What the AM dial lacks in fidelity, it makes up for in ambiance. There's no better example in Phoenix than Arizona Gold 1440 AM, which devotes its daytime air to long stretches of oldies from the '50s, '60s, and '70s (14 songs at a time, naturally). There's a slight crackle to the transmission, a vintage station jingle, and nothing but gems: Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels tearing through "Devil With a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly" from 1966, Carly Simon's 1972 kiss-off "You're So Vain," the incendiary "Liar Liar" by the Castaways from 1965. They're not exactly deep cuts, but you're not likely to hear them on other Valley oldies stations, and more important, they sound fantastic with the added hum and boom of the AM transmission. Fourteen of 'em in a row — true dusty, poppy gold.
Best Country Radio Station
KSWG 96.3 FM
96.3 Real Country doesn't play exclusively vintage country — you'll hear hits from Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley, and even some of that "bro country" stuff that's all the rage — but the station does lean toward old-school Western sounds, meaning DJs like Erika Smith Royal, Mark Mayfield, Ralph Davis, and morning show cards Dingo and Cole will spin classics by Bocephus, George Strait, Wynonna Judd, and more. Broadcasting from Wickenburg, a town with Western appeal to spare, Real Country's vibe is no B.S. and homespun, and its DJs sound at home on the air.
Best Hip-Hop Radio Station
KNRJ 101.1 FM
Part of the Sierra H Broadcasting empire along with old-school station Mega 104.3 FM, 101.1 Owners Jay Brentlinger and Steve Szalay are veterans of the Air Force and National Guard, respectively. They named their company "Sierra H" for a slang term meaning "hot shit," and that's a good description of what the station plays, spinning classic hip-hop from the Pharcyde, LL Cool J, Tupac, Snoop Dogg, and Biggie as well as songs from rap's modern stalwarts like Lil Wayne and Jay Z. Morning jock Hospe is one of the best in the Valley, blending hip-hop news and hilarious sketches, and his playlists exemplify everything you want in a heritage hip-hop station: modern classics alongside vintage ones, with an eye toward the future.
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Community-driven and -staffed by a dedicated group of volunteers, Radio Phoenix is unmatched in diversity and passion. The station's music programs cover sounds from afar and our own backyards, and they do it well. Kaja Brown's alt-hip-hop show HipRawk Nation, roots program Full Moon Hacksaw, Soul Deluxe with DJ Byron Fenix all rep music not getting enough shine on commercial stations, and the station's locally driven shows, like Yab Yum's Bungalow Show, Arizona Music 586 (staffed by Phoenix's local musicians' union), and local reggae legend Walt Richardson's My World of Music are among the most comprehensive and interesting on the station. Select programming is simulcast on KVIT 90.7 FM and 92.7 and KWSS 93.9 throughout the week, but it's all available — to Phoenix and the whole globe — online.
Best Pirate Radio Station
KWFUCC 87.9 FM
It's hard to know what exactly is going on when you find yourself tuned to 87.9 FM in Phoenix and listening to harsh noise, bizarre dubstep, and other unclassifiable mixes from the desert underground. Broadcast illegally, this is pirate radio at its weirdest. The signal comes and goes — but it's always streaming at www.kwfucc.com, an insanely designed site that features a message that sums up the station's uncanny appeal: "look i know we are no web desighners [sic] but fuck it this az we just make shit up as we go." By the time you read this, it's entirely possible that the station has vanished like a ghost from the FM dial, but don't be surprised when it shows back up again, making little to no sense at all, the exact opposite of what you'll hear anywhere else on the radio.