NPR has always been the classiest act on our airwaves. And lately, with more and more radio stations cutting their news staff, it's now also, hands down, the most informative. The morning drive-time show doesn't give us just local headlines at the top of the hour; there's also a good chance we'll get a locally produced feature or two. Later in the day, we have great appreciation for Steve Goldstein's long-form interviews with local politicos. Nobody else devotes so much time and seriousness to its local coverage. For that, we salute KJZZ.

Jim Cross sounds believable and accurate, and with good reason: He is. KTAR's lead news reporter has been telling us important stories from around the state day after day, pounding that rigorous 3 to 11 a.m. shift with the same enthusiasm now as when he was hired in 1999. Cross especially excels during crunch time, when events are fluid and outcomes unsure. His coverage of the Rodeo-Chediski fire in 2002 and the Southern California firestorm in 2007 was as good as it gets — graphic, yet never maudlin. His description of the first commercial airplane lifting off at Sky Harbor days after 9/11 was riveting and heartfelt. And we also recall his fair coverage of the stunning 2007 arrests of this paper's two principal owners by Joe Arpaio's goons. Good reporter that he is, he drove over to the paper, waited until someone gave him a decent quote, and then put it on the air, all within minutes. What more can you ask?

It's downright impossible to find competition for Mike Watkiss in this wrecking ball of a media market. Watkiss, a mighty mite with a big voice and a bigger heart, is definitely old school. (For the record, we consider that a compliment.) The guy literally pounds the pavement looking for lowdown stories about murder, mayhem, and the otherwise seamy side of life. And he's charming — if you're not the subject of one of his stories. He still wears his O.J. Simpson press pass around his neck as a badge of honor. Sadly, street reporters like Watkiss are a dying breed, so enjoy him while you can. We love the SOB.

Since taking the host's seat at Channel 8's Horizon show a few years ago, Simons has done wonders to spice up a public-affairs show that, frankly, had become as exciting as watching toast brown or water boil. The guy truly is erudite, able to discuss the nuances of Dylan's Blonde on Blonde in one breath and evolving Arizona water policies, local politics, and Supreme Court appointments in the next. (That said, we're still gonna scream the next time we hear windbag Howie Fischer use the phrase "In terms of . . ." when he chimes in during Simons' roundtable discussion most Friday nights.) Simons is one smooth operator, able to mix it up in his own genteel way with characters as diverse as Sheriff Joe Arpaio, ASU President Michael Crow, cartoonist Steve Benson, and ex-Governor Janet Napolitano. What we really want to know is how Mr. Simons keeps his hair from ever moving — even a little — onscreen.

Shane Matsumoto hates it when people trash the local music scene. "I'm tired of people calling our scene the red-headed stepchild of L.A.," he says. "We're the fifth-largest city in the U.S., and there's lots of good musicians here. People who criticize Phoenix just don't know where to look for it." The 33-year-old co-owner of the Highland Recorders Studio certainly knows where to look, as he's dedicated himself to ferreting out the best our burg has to offer for his TV show, Indie Music Phoenix. Since debuting last November, the weekly 30-minute program has broadcast interviews with dozens of Valley outfits across multiple genres, ranging from shoegaze indie to punk and hip-hop — not to mention concert footage from recent gigs. IMP also one-ups MTV and VH1 by actually showing music videos on a regular basis (shocking, we know). And if the public can't make it home from the bar in time to tune in, Matsumoto will sometimes bring the show to them by hosting occasional live-music nights at venues like Tempe's Yucca Tap Room, featuring many of the same bands seen on the program. He also posts episodes online. From meatspace to cyberspace, Matsumoto has Phoenix music covered.

Okay, first, let's get past the jokes: Yes, ASU's radio station, The Blaze 1330 AM, has an — ahem — limited range. In fact, your signal may start to break up on the south side of campus, which is why most listeners are online. But what the Blaze lacks in speaker-rattling power, it makes up for by being more in tune with local music than any other tower in town. Yes, this traditional (read: dazed students playing OK Computer front to back) college radio station goes crazy for all those blogger buzz bands, but it's been the only spot on the dial (or, more realistically, the only feed in your iTunes) that'll give you a steady diet of bands like Kinch, Miniature Tigers, and Dear and the Headlights. For that, we love them — at least until we go west of Mill.

Best Online Music Station That Should Be a Radio Station

In a just and fair world, the signals of Radio Phoenix would surge across the Phoenix area with 100,000 watts of clarity. Car stereos and hi-fi sets from Surprise to San Tan Valley would broadcast the stations ber-eclectic blend of indie/underground music and community-based talk programming. We know listeners would dig Hip Rawk Nation with Kaja Brown on Wednesdays, which boasts a diverse mix of gospel, electronica, pop, and urban music (the kinda stuff thats usually relegated to an audiophiles iPod), as well as the retro soul and R&B sounds of The Dalton Green Show every Sunday afternoon. It would put Tucsons KXCI to shame. Yeah, wouldnt that be something? Returning to that nasty thing called reality, such a feat is a long way from happening, if at all, as this volunteer-run station is currently broadcast online only. According to station manager Jeremy Deatherage, plans are afoot to someday obtain a bona fide FCC license, which costs into the hundreds of thousands. Several benefit gigs have taken baby steps toward that goal, but, like we said, it might not happen anytime soon. In the meantime, well keep our fingers crossed and stay tuned.

Best Archive of Old-School Arizona Punk

Shavedneck

As groovy as it can be to catch shows at Valley rock clubs like Jugheads and Hollywood Alley, these joints ultimately bow to the awesomeness that was Madison Square Garden back in the day. A scuzzy mecca for punk and hardcore gigs during the early '80s, the defunct east Phoenix gymnasium/nightclub is where both renowned locals (JFA, The Feederz) and nationally known acts (Dead Kennedys, TSOL) unleashed three-chord anarchy inside a wrestling ring surrounded by cyclone fencing. Though it's been 25 years since Mad Gardens closed down and faded into local lore, you can revisit those mayhem-filled days through Bill Cuevas' online archive chronicling our state's Reagan-era punk scene. The former Tucsonan's Web site boasts a virtual treasure trove of vintage ephemera (including fliers, stickers, and photographs) for Arizona bands and dives that have long since gone the way of Joey Ramone — like Bundini's Warehouse in Tempe, or Tucson's legendary Stumble Inn. A few bootleg MP3s of classic shows (such as Black Flag performing at the Calderon Ballroom in 1982) are also available for download. See, punk's not dead; it just lives on over the Internet.

Tim Virgin isn't the most talkative DJ on Phoenix's rock radio scene, but that's kinda what we like about him. Market-wise, he's no virgin, bouncing all around this great land before landing at The Edge, where he spins a lot of '90s "alternative" rock, mixed with a select number of newer bands, during his afternoon slot. He's got a unique (but in no way grating) voice, and he doesn't overdo anything, which is pretty much what we like to hear between songs by Incubus, Nirvana, and Green Day. He also seems to be at least a little excited when he's spinning something relatively new — which may be a directive from the station's corporate overlords but makes us feel warm and fuzzy anyway.

Our morning commute just gets longer and longer, but it ain't because traffic's snarled again on the I-10. Ever since the acerbic-tongued jock Strawberry gave up his afternoon drive time shift in favor of urging 101.5 JAMZ listeners to "wake that ass up" from 6 to 10 a.m. every weekday, we've been extending our route to the office, if only to get in a few more minutes of listening. Between spins of the freshest Lil Wayne, Jeremih, and Flo Rida cuts, we're usually cracking up something fierce at his bits, which put other "morning zoo" deejays to shame. Besides the always-popular "Will It Flush Wednesdays," there's "Bitch Slap Mondays," where fans cast text-message votes throughout the show to determine which male in the studio (either the host or one of his sidekicks, Suge White and G-Mo) gets a hearty pimp-smack by outspoken newsgirl Vanessa. His tongue-in-cheek interviews are also top-shelf, be they with oddball listeners, porn stars, or hip-hop luminaries. (He even got to confab with DMX the day he got released from Sheriff Joe's gulag.) If Earl Simmons is down with Straw, then we gotta be, too.

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