BEST CLASSICAL MUSIC STATION 2003 | KBAQ-FM 89.5 | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
The digital age has given classical and chamber music its best-ever recording quality and fidelity, yet the masters are still getting the short shrift by technology. With LED display push-button car stereos and receivers tuning in whatever signals aren't putting up too much of a struggle, it's near impossible to find a station in Phoenix that gives a flyin' fugue. The only way we found listener-supported classical KBAQ-FM 89.5 (or "K-Bach") was to get a cheap portable radio with a turn dial that sweeps across the airwaves like an old broom that knows where all the corners are. And we had to scan counterclockwise from right to left -- the other direction got us stuck in a frequency that merged a Tejano station with Bible-thumping evangelists. But were we ever delighted to catch Gabriel Fauré's "Requiem Opus 48" in its entirety at a late morning hour where you'd be lucky to hear the long version of "Light My Fire. " And we heard Schubert, Dvorák and Chopin, all without radio edits. As for specialty programming, the noon lunch hour offers a daily Mozart Buffet, 5 p.m. drive time is occupied by NPR's Performance Today, and live symphony simulcasts at the stroke of 7.

Classic rock in the commercially viable sense is deader than the Soviet Union. With hip-hop, drum machines and jailbait starlets on the front burner, it ain't coming back, either. But, like a good mummy, classic rock is a well-preserved music, as radio stations all across the country honor thy Crosby Stills & Nash and keep the coked-out sounds of the '60s and '70s alive.

We're especially blessed in the Valley to have a classic rock station that appreciates the serenity of the mad-ass car bop to the nth degree. KSLX is heavy on the big chunky-butt riff and on the weirdness that is psychedelia. For instance, there can't possibly be another station on Earth that plays more Eric Burden and the Animals or Electric Light Orchestra than our very own baby-boom-honoring programmers at KSLX. If you catch the DJs at their most tender (or perhaps most bored) moments -- say at 3 a.m. or 2:15 p.m. -- you might hear something truly double-take-inducing -- 10-minute prog-rock opuses by Traffic or even Elton John, or perhaps album cuts that almost never get airtime (think the totality of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours).

Readers' Choice for Best Radio Station -- Rock: KUPD-FM 97.9

Since blues music by design doesn't pack many surprises -- you know, 12 bars, repeated first line, misery and horndog sentiments -- it's up to the clubgoer to come up with the variations. With an assortment of blues establishments and institutions in place in Phoenix for decades, it's hard to find a new blues hangout that's underground enough to spotlight new talents and yet doesn't feel like a beer palace that changes into a sports bar at the clang of a bell.

Monroe's has the underground part worked out -- can you recall the last club in the Valley that's a walk-down? We can't, either. Using this subterranean advantage, it's possible to slip in at happy hour and feel you're in a blues cellar in St. Louis where the 115-degree sun can't catch you crying in your beer. Monroe's has played host to bands like Hot Ice and Morgan City General, a blues duo from Iowa that plays there every Wednesday night, but to anyone whose introduction to the blues was the Robert Johnson boxed set, it's the romantic notion of a musician with one hell-hounded trail that brings people to Monroe's modest suds cellar.

Located in a two-building strip mall next to a family-owned convenience store, the Rogue modestly sits south of ostentatious downtown Scottsdale. When the Rogue replaced the Blue Ox last year, a diminutive, wall-mounted jukebox set the new hole apart from its predecessor. Selections from the Stooges, Misfits, Suicidal Tendencies, the Descendents, the Dead Kennedys and early Social Distortion -- what hard-core jukebox would be complete without the anthem "Mommy's Little Monster"? -- make this 'box the champ. Rockabilly and psychobilly complete the 'box's selection.

Naturally, the rad jukebox portends the occasional live act that graces the bar. A small corner stage presents bands that delve in anything from retro-psychedelia to old-school fist-pumping "gabba gabba hey" punk.

Long Wong's remains an old faithful, supporting promising bands seven days a week in its delectably cramped 99-person-capacity confines. These days, pop craftsmen Gloritone, noise-core rockers Hot Fought Cold, bluegrass ensemble Busted Hearts and satirical metalheads Steppchild are among the old jangle-pop headquarters' mainstays. Tempe, with its smoking ban and redevelopment goals, may now be roadhouse unfriendly, but Wong's is like a cockroach in the framework -- its devotion to rock 'n' roll and good drunken times may never die.

Readers' Choice: Nita's Hideaway

For amateur hip-hop hopefuls, O'Mallys is tantamount to Ed McMahon's auditioning den. The club, essentially a sports bar tailored to an urban-music-loving crowd, with dance floor and plush booths thrown in with the pool tables and televisions, holds open nights for DJs and for rappers, the latter of which culminates with single-elimination freestyle battles between the combatants. By the end of the night, there's one man left standing; even if he offered nothing but bugged-out corny stuff, at least he was better than everyone else. House DJs who spin popular beats from the old school and beyond, and cheap bottles of Hennessey and Cristal give the Arizona hip-hop head the feeling that we out here in cactus-and-saloon town do actually have a place in the bangin' universe.

It wouldn't take that much research acumen to find out who Burton Barr is, but we prefer to think of him as a home bootlegger's best pal. While the Recording Industry Association of America continues its crusade against those dirty downloaders, we prefer to fatten our CD and DVD collections the old-fashioned way -- we buuuuuuurrrrrrn them! And the best collection available of the little silver disc devils is at the aforementioned BB's on Central. We found fairly recent titles from the likes of the Shins, the Hives and Stephen Malkmus and lots of hole fillers for our collections that could be gotten without tying up a phone line. Don't want to splurge for a four-CD boxed set during a recession? Boxed sets of Sinatra's Columbia years, the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds Sessions and the recent Buffalo Springfield retrospective are available, although any set with more than three discs is usually separated as individual CDs, so you might have to acquire and burn them on the installment plan. As for DVDs, new titles seem to appear and disappear daily -- we found new releases like Bridget Jones's Diary, the refurbished Lady From Shanghai and A Hard Day's Night, multiple Monty Python titles and the Godfather trilogy, but way too many Poirot mysteries for our liking. And though it behooves us to tell you where you can find some of the newest and most eclectic titles, we kind of wish you didn't know about the Teen Central library on the fourth floor, which is supposedly for kids but features titles by Laura Nyro, Captain Beefheart and the Ink Spots. If you find a kid digging those, adopt him and call him Clarence.

Blaise Lantana works on both sides of the music business. Not solely a DJ for KJZZ-FM 91.5, she's a jazz musician as well, singing at joints such as the Rhythm Room and My Florist Cafe. To hear rarities such as Carmen McRae's' "Ruby My Dear " or Roy Hargrove's "The Joint" along with standards from Duke Ellington's orchestra or Thelonious Monk's trio is not uncommon in Blaise's wee-hour rotations. Dispensing tidbits of history in between songs and that untouchable air of cool she holds while interviewing jazz greats from New York or scattered Valley cats makes her perhaps local radio's ultimate unpretentious diva.

Readers' Choice for Best Radio Station -- Blues/Jazz: KYOT-FM 95.5

The Edge deserves credit for its brand of survival and redemption. Since skating dangerously close to demise in 2001, it has bounced back to become the Valley's preeminent source for all things punk -- new power-pop, lighthearted rap-rock, latter-day grunge and occasional detours into vintage punk and mid-'90s college rock from Sublime and others. The station's status as an independent affords it the luxury of taking risks, and its subsequent on-air support for groups such as Trik Turner, Authority Zero and the Format helped spark a wave of major-label signings of locals last year.

Readers' Choice: KZON-FM 101.5

Formerly the Red River Music Hall, the Marquee Theatre opened its doors this past March, admittedly on the premature side by its new owners, the regional promotional powerhouse Nobody in Particular Presents. Though NIPP is still working on $1 million in renovations, improvements to parking and the installation of a permanent sign advertising the theater, it has as good a music-business fallback as any in the meantime -- really good music. In recent weeks, the theater has booked shows by the reuniting Sex Pistols and Psychedelic Furs, a prog-rock double-bill featuring Grandaddy and Super Furry Animals, the wildly costumed fiesta that is Fischerspooner, stoner-rock pranksters Ween, and bluesman Robert Cray. In October, the theater is scheduled to present a series of rising punk bands -- Poison the Well, From Autumn to Ashes, Bouncing Souls -- and Peter Frampton. Plus, with a massive stage and a 1,000-plus capacity that allows for real beer-drinking freedom, the Marquee offers an added dose of comfort.

Readers' Choice: Celebrity Theatre

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of