BEST NEWS RADIO 2006 | KJZZ-FM 91.5 | People & Places | Phoenix
In a city chock-full of nationally syndicated shock-jock talk and robotic rock, we're thankful for our National Public Radio affiliate, which broadcasts healthy doses of local Arizona news. Each weekday morning during "Morning Edition," we tune in to thoughtful, well-reported stories on subjects ranging from water politics to immigration reform. Specialty programming includes "Talking With the Governor" every third Wednesday of the month, and February's Arizona Week celebrates statehood with special-interest stories on topics ranging from rural organic farming to the history of Valley landmarks. The listener cannot live on news alone, so we look forward to Sunday nights, a dream for blues fans when Bob Corritore sermonizes about old-time Phoenix and its blues scene during the five-hour "Those Lowdown Blues."
It isn't that we always agree with Joe Crummey after all, he's enough of a conservative to substitute occasionally for the nationally syndicated right-wing nut Glenn Beck. But what we like about KFYI's Crummey is exactly what we like about hosts like Howard Stern: He's smart, he's not always orthodox, he's not shrill, and he understands pacing. Indeed, it's many a commute that we find ourselves tuning in to Crummey during some other station's commercial break, then listening all the way home. He may not be someone we'd vote for, but we can't help laughing, and sometimes even nodding in agreement.
We love everything about Daniel and Felicia Ruiz Wayne's stylish little Spanish spot on Camelback, from the big communal tables to the flavorful plates of Serrano ham and Manchego. (Okay, we also love that chickpea-and-spinach combo.) But most of all, we love the sangria, a perfect house blend of wine and fruit that's never too sweet and never too dry. Stick with the house blend instead of the peach this drink is perfect without any embellishment.
Kind of like college radio for the 9-to-5 set, Creamy Radio's mix of indie artists and local celebrities has pushed us through many a long day in front of the computer screen. Run by Dog and DboG, two self-described "wankers with too much time on their hands," the radio station is the answer to FM dial monotony. But that doesn't mean you've never heard of anything they play Creamy Radio knows you love U2 and Tom Petty, and it's not gonna make you feel bad about it. Mixed between indie gems, these guys will toss on mainstream favorites, the kind of stuff you can't help but sing along to. That doesn't mean you have to suffer through "Where the Streets Have No Name" again. The Creamy dudes pride themselves on "deep" hits from mainstream artists which means more "Red Hill Mining Town" than "Vertigo." Still, there's enough pretension here to maintain Creamy Radio's Internet music snob cred. We were pleased to see Ryan Adams, Nick Drake, A Tribe Called Quest, Bloc Party, and Handsome Boy Modeling School on recent playlists. Creamy Radio also frequently hosts shows with local favorites like Drive By Truckers and Tramps and Thieves at Last Exit Bar & Grill in Tempe, while broadcasting the show live on the air. We can't get enough of this creamy goodness. Interpret that as you wish.
Benjamin Leatherman
We know what makes a jukebox good: selection, selection, selection. Take Election Night, 2004. We stumble into the Bikini, where the beer and cable TV are flowing. Before long, we realize some things won't be resolved that night things about Ohio. But we need closure, some way to process recent events, and we spy the jukebox. Five dollars buys 25 tracks and puts red states and blue states behind us for a while. Our personal, cathartic, ephemeral mix tape: Marvin Gaye, Rolling Stones, Zevon, Clapton, Beatles, Righteous Brothers, Zeppelin, Elton John, Nat "King" Cole, Hollies, Cat Stevens, Joplin, John Hiatt . . . a lullaby for an aging hippie. (You'll also find Nelly, Lindsay Lohan, Hoobastank, TLC, Billie Holiday, Merle Haggard, Morphine, and Shakira in the stacks, covering pretty much every musical movement since the wax cylinder.) Next day, Mom asks about toasty, English-speaking democracies she can migrate to. That'd be Gibraltar.
How many towns boast weekly gatherings of sousing and open mic jams hosted by some of the biggest local musicians around? Ever since Billy Marcks from Authority Zero started booking events at The Real Bar as an excuse to do some singing and swilling with his buddies, the Tempe juke joint has become quite the magnet for the Valley's musical A-listers, if there is such a thing. On any given night, guests can rub shoulders with AZ singer Jason Devore and Marcks, and hang with other Valley biggies like Brian Blush (ex-Refreshments), Big Blake, Jason Hubbard and Lauren Z. Guests can grab a guitar and do their best Santeria cover or try to drink Marcks under the table (which will be quite the undertaking). And with $2 Tecates and $1 PBR, you'll feel like a rock star after a couple of pints even if you're the only one there.
Ragan Fox is the poster boy for gay overachievers. He published a book, became a university instructor and got his doctorate all by the time he hit 30, which probably explains why his podcast is so damn brilliant. Technically, he's Dr. Fox now, but his fans just call him Rag pronounced rayg as in "ray of friggin' sunshine," not rag like "on the rag." Sure, he anal-yzes Brokeback Mountain and sings lesbian karaoke, but parts of Fox's show would appeal to conservative, redneck high school dropouts. Brangelina's love child? Hell spawn. Jessica Simpson? Just Anna Nicole Smith with a career. Terrorism? "Who releases a threat on an audio tape these days?" Fox quipped after a voice recording of Osama bin Laden aired. "You might as well release the shit on an eight-track." If Osama really wanted to get some Web hits, says Fox, he'd release a sex tape like Pam Anderson or Britney. Wow. That's why we love you, Rag!
The same building that once housed reggae musicians and Grateful Dead tribute bands as The Sail Inn became Trax this year, a "casual but trendy" nightclub that mixes house, breakbeat and electronica music from DJs like Rephil and Earth with live rock music by bands like Fat Rhabit and the Chris Tafoya Band. The club's most popular components seem to be the outside stage and patio, and the custom lounge tables that the club's always encouraging people to dance on. But the lack of a cover charge most nights along with cheap, strong drinks and eclectic young crowds probably doesn't hurt, either.
The swanky Gen X set that wants to find the perfect Roaring Twenties cigarette holder, wear zoot suits, and drink a mah-tini has the perfect soundtrack on Star 97.5. The station's self-avowed "sass, brass, and a whole lot of class" format includes jazz, blues, pop, swing, and standards, with the coolest of the old school (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat "King" Cole, Ella Fitzgerald) getting airtime alongside the new guard (Harry Connick Jr., Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Brian Setzer, Madeleine Peyroux). Programs like the "Two Martini Lunch" (from noon to 1 p.m. on weekdays) and "Starry Nights" (from 7 p.m. to midnight on weekdays) keep listeners cool with finger-snappin' numbers by the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. and Tony Bennett, and hot new numbers by the likes of Norah Jones, The Swingtips, and Diana Krall (a.k.a. Mrs. Elvis Costello). With set lists like this, you can live in 2006, but still party like it's 1945.
We knew a fellow from Arkansas who stepped out with women who were not, technically, single. He said the best bars have no front windows. The Great Escape does that concept one better: The parking's out back, so passersby can't even spot your wheels from Indian School Road. Inside, the ATM's broken. The popcorn looks wicked old. Want a draft? It's Bud or Miller. A couple years back, a bear of a man tended bar here while watching Cartoon Network, and some guy gave us crap about our taste in music. Seemed promising. But then the other night, a trim, silver-haired gent introduced himself and thanked us for playing the jukebox. Aaaaah, we thought. They're getting soft. Place's losing its edge. Then our new friend leaned in and hooked his thumb back toward the rowdies at the next table: "If they start," he said, "just get outta the way." Yesssss! The Dive abides.

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