Long Wong's at the Firehouse
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.

Burton Barr Central Library
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

Marquee Theatre
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

KNIX-FM is Clear Channel Communications' local holding in country radio, which isn't exactly the sexiest distinction these days. But Phoenix is a long-standing C&W stronghold with a tradition that stretches back to Marty Robbins, Waylon Jennings and friendly frequent visitor Buck Owens. And the folks at KNIX reflect a devotion to the music you would subsequently expect. While the station does play the rising hits as prescribed by Nashville, it finds time to slip in aging pop-country warriors Alabama and once-untouchable superstar Randy Travis, whose recent "Pray for the Fish" is a bona fide oddity that seems incongruent with the Faith Hill/Lee Ann Womack/Pam Tillis set. The station's friendliness to the artists who keep country grounded in its honky-tonk roots is commendable, as is the amusingly redneck but civil tone of morning jocks Tim & Willy.

Readers' Choice: KNIX-FM 102.5

If the saying "wherever you hang your hat is home" means anything, at least a hundred cowboys with names like Buck and Billy have hung, dated and donated their head coverings to the rafters of this country and western institution, which has been here in north Scottsdale since the barren days of 1966. Back then, it was called Wild Bill's and provided singer Waylon Jennings with yet another home away from home (his widow Jessi Colter and Handlebar-J owner's son Ray Herndon will soon be performing an "Outlaw Connection" tribute here). Since then, it's been a visiting spot of luminaries like Loretta Lynn, Lyle Lovett and Toby Keith. And unlike other now-you-see-'em country bars that book an occasional rock band or karaoke night, Handlebar-J hosts live C&W seven nights a week. Plus, it has been a safe haven for porterhouse carnivores and protectors of the two-step at a time when country music seems to have lost its cultural identity to cosmopolitan cowpokin' and records that aren't even worth their weight in tobacco spit.

Readers' Choice: Handlebar-J

Proof positive that radio sucks? Hordes of people on the Internet are swapping tapes of DJ air checks, station promos and entire jock shifts from whatever "golden age" of radio they champion. Proof positive that radio doesn't suck? Power 92.3 FM -- and its irrefutable 2003 slogan "The Station That Doesn't Suck" (see?). People who miss personality-driven radio have their assortments of oddballs to "act a fool" in the morning, from Mad Dogg to $horty P to the Madhouse's one-man Jackass Gringo Suave, whose stunts have ranged from eating live crickets to sucking face with a homeless woman old enough to be a Murray the K groupie. People who miss the fury of the nonstop Top 40 can console themselves with Power's intelligent and animated mix of nonstop hip-hop and new R&B, especially when there are live DJs in the mix who make even the jump to commercials seem like an elevated art form. Specialty shows like the Lowriders Oldies and noontime Old Skool Requests demonstrate to dimwitted radio consultants that it's possible to enjoy up-to-the-minute hits and still maintain a sense of history. Of course, all good radio stations must come to an end, and at some point some pencil-pushing simp will likely come in, ruin Power 92.3 and send us looking for Mini Salas air checks. That it hasn't happened yet says something about the staying power of hip-hop.

Readers' Choice: KKFR-FM Power 92

Shopping for new music can be a pain, especially these days as record stores grow increasingly more cavernous and the suggested retail prices for new major-label CDs creep above $20. The trick is to find a good markdown on price -- a necessity for struggling retailers these days -- and to be able to get in and out as quickly as possible -- you want to hear that disc now, after all. Circles, among locally operated record stores, aids that process most ably, selling new discs by big-name artists for $14.88 and $15.88 long after their release. It also helps that Circles' managers understand their customers -- display cases for new urban music, the leading seller nationally as well as locally, are put up front, kiosks that throw Mary J. Blige, Chingy and other objects of hip-hop desire in your face.

Readers' Choice: Best Buy

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