Best Hip-Hop Radio Station 2011 | The Beat 92.7/99.3/101.1 FM | People & Places | Phoenix
According to the Kool Herc's 2005 tome, Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, the crackalackin' urban genre has been around since way back in the 1970s, when street hustlers like Kool Keith and Grandmaster Flash started spitting out songs on NYC street corners. You wouldn't know it by listening to some of the other hip-hop stations in the Valley, which tend to ignore old-school hip-hop in favor of spinning up "today's hits" ad nauseam. Not so at The Beat, where DJs such as Big Boy, Ruben S., and Tyler Martinez mix classic cuts like Whodini's "Friends" and Digital Underground's "Freaks of the Industry" into regular rotation along with some New Jack Swing-style hits from Bel Biv Devoe, or maybe even a little alt-rap by A Tribe Called Quest. While the signal coming from The Beat's broadcast antennas scattered around the Valley causes listeners to flip among one of the station's three frequencies, it's totally worth the hassle, especially if it means getting to hear some dope gangsta shit from Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls.
During the day, you tune into KJZZ 91.5 FM for the news, but at night, the station turns all manners of blue — playing classic and modern jazz, and devoting Sunday night to Those Lowdown Blues with blues impresario Bob Corritore. On weekday evenings, DJ Blaise Lantana brings the music of artists like Chet Baker, Art Tatum, and Oscar Peterson to the late-night dial. With KYOT focusing more on soft pop and soul, KJZZ is about all there is for jazz on the Valley FM dial. Until someone kick-starts a free jazz and acid fusion station, we know our tuners will be set to that jazzy station north of all those Christian rock frequencies.
It's cool enough that independent radio station KWSS 106.7 FM is commercial-free (excluding the on-air plugs during programming for "underwriters"/sponsors), but it's the station's lack of rigid format/computer-generated playlists that really sets it apart. While tuning into any advertiser-driven rock radio station in the Valley guarantees you'll hear the latest hard rock "hits" everybody else is playing, you get no such guarantee with KWSS. In fact, you're more likely to hear an alternative radio hit from 1985 before you'll get the latest Nickelback tune. And that's fine with us — we'd much rather have eclectic programming like Erratic Radio (hosted by Westley Allen, who plays in local bands The Plainfield Butchers and The Rebel Set) and Live Transmission (hosted by notable Valley club DJ William Reed). In addition to obscure alternative cuts and new tunes by emerging artists, KWSS gives lots of love to local artists, pimping Valley rockers' songs in a daily top five list — so instead of being stuck with any other station's "drive-time" drivel, we get to cruise to tunes by Phoenix bands like The Love Me Nots, Kongos, Peachcake, and Banana Gun.
Yeah, we're a little more partial to classic country like George Jones, Willie Nelson, and Loretta Lynn, but you've got to hand it to KMLE 108 FM for bringing the newest and hottest country pop to the airwaves. You'll hear all the hits from well-known acts like Rascal Flatts and Tim McGraw, as well as newer breakout stars like The Zac Brown Band and Lady Antebellum. The station's morning show, Tim and Willy in the Morning, is a huge hit with Valley listeners, as the irreverent dudes crack wise on local news (for a taste, check out their parody tune, "Pot Fell from the Sky," about airborne weed in Yuma, sung to the tune of Alan Parson's "Eye in the Sky").
We're all for getting into new music, but there are times when you don't feel like checking out hot new artists, and you just want to jam to something you know. Mega 104.3 FM brings the goods, spinning classic old-school jams like "Car Wash" by Rose Royce and "Genius of Love" by Tom Tom Club. Best of all, Mega 104.3 hosts the syndicated classic Art "Oldies But Goodies" Laboe from 10 to noon Mondays through Thursdays and on Sunday nights, spinning the kind of soul, doo-wop, and classic R&B that sound best late at night. Dedications are welcome, of course.
Modesty and tact aren't two of John Holmberg's better virtues. As the titular host of rock radio station KUPD's a.m. drive-time program Holmberg's Morning Sickness, the 39-year-old attempts to both entertain and offend as many listeners as possible. Same goes for the rest of his kooky cadre of sidekicks, which includes madcap man-child Brady Bogan and the show's long-suffering producer, Dick Toledo. Few things seem sacred on the show, which airs every weekday morning starting at 6 a.m., whether it's riffing on celebrities, humorously discussing the toilet habits of septuagenarian Arizona Senator John McCain, or suggesting that Arizona Diamondbacks radio announcer Greg Schulte might be gay. Holmberg's also a gifted impressionist, as he demonstrates during the program's weekly parody of the Hollywood Squares. Our absolute favorite Holmberg impression is "Buffalo Binks," a mash-up of Silence of the Lambs serial killer Buffalo Bill and Jar-Jar Binks. It was hilariously wrong in so many ways, particularly when Holmberg began doing dialogue like "It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again" in the reviled Star Wars character's nasally twang. By the way, John, you owe us for the auto detailing we had done after spitting up coffee all over the dash.
KWSS morning man Beef Vegan has a gravelly baritone that sounds a lot like a young Wolfman Jack. It's doubtful, however, that Jack would push things quite as far as Beef does — even during his outlaw years in Mexico. Accompanied by a pair of sidekicks known as Big Buddha and Shorty, Beef mans the morning show on a low-power FM station audible inside the 101 loop. In an era when most of Phoenix's radio personalities seem to be playing it safe, hoping to lay low and avoid the axes wielded by the corporate conglomerates that own them, Beef is a breath of fresh, if pungent, air. The scruffy DJ (real name: Brad Pfirrman) doesn't have much to lose, which may be why he has a lot to say. Beef's station has only a low-power license that doesn't allow for ad sales, and he doesn't get paid to do his show, so he'll gladly play music outside his station's indie rock format or antagonize guest comedian Adam Carolla to the point that Carolla dedicated eight minutes of his own Internet radio show to dissing him. Sure, there are some rough edges on Beef's show, The Morning Infidelity. For example, it's probably not strictly necessary to put every caller on the air, even when they're totally unintelligible and possibly drunk at 7 a.m. But, hey, that's all part of the fun. You never know what you're going to get from Beef, which is a great reason to tune in.
The next time you walk around US Airways Center, consider this: An underground neighborhood — Chinatown or "China Alley," as it was once referred to — was centered right at Madison and First streets.

Census figures from 1890 put the number of Chinese people residing in Phoenix at 200, though given that many were single men living in boarding houses, the number may have been under-reported. Certainly not all Chinese residents lived in this neighborhood bounded by Jackson, Jefferson, First and Third streets, but the majority did at what may have been the height of Phoenix's Chinatown community.

There were Chinese-owned businesses such as grocery stores, vegetable stands, laundries, and restaurants. By 1899, there was a joss house, boarding houses, and another business, Dr. Ah Yim's Chinese Tea and Herb Sanitarium on First Street just north of Madison. In 1910, the three largest restaurants in Phoenix were Chinese-owned.

But this being our "underground" issue, we have to mention there were some pretty persistent and salacious rumors, too — mainly that a system of subterranean tunnels criss-crossed underneath Phoenix's old Chinatown, connecting dens of inequity.

This was such a long-held piece of gossip that a man recalling his Phoenix childhood in 1982 in an article in the Arizona Capitol Times says there was "conviction among the youth of Phoenix that Chinatown lay over a sinister maze of tunnels and underground rooms put to god-knows-what use. Stories about mysterious goings-on were common."

Okay — vegetable vendors, sure, but gambling tunnels?

While it is true that after 1909, gambling and opium smoking were illegal in Arizona, both were still available in Chinatown, and opium joints and gambling dens, visited by both Chinese and white residents, were raided occasionally by law enforcement. We found this gem from the Arizona Republican (March 9, 1910): "Four opium dens were discovered, all in full blast, and packed to the doors with hop-smoking Chinks."

And a Republican article from March 17, 1923, said officers involved in a narcotics raid "made human rats of themselves in exploring the underground tunnels which played an important part in the narcotics activities of the men taken into custody. A majority of the dope taken in the raid was discovered in these subterranean passages."

So there were definitely sensationalized reports in Anglo newspapers, but was there any real evidence to support the rumor that a vast network of underground tunnels existed?

In 1989, archaeologists undertook a survey of the site around the arena prior to its construction and published a report of their findings. Their dig did unearth evidence of narcotics use and gambling (through fragments such as opium cans; see other artifacts, pictured above) found in basements of formerly Chinese-operated buildings, but there was no mention of a system of tunnels.

The terms Chinatown and "China Alley" were used by Phoenix newspapers and on maps up until the 1940s, to describe the area. But by that time, local Chinese populations had chosen consciously to integrate and scattered throughout the city.

"My name is Westley Allen, I think — let me check my notes." That's a direct quote from Westley Allen, who hosts Erratic! Radio each Tuesday night on KWSS 106.7 from 8 to 10 p.m. Allen plays the best in garage, punk, and crude-ass rock 'n' roll, spinning tunes from all over the map, like garage-rock stars The Black Lips and head-scratcher selections from polka man Frankie Yankovic ("Weird" Al's pops), while hosting music from local and national bands like The Limit Club, Labor Party, Cat Party, Digital Leather, and more. Sometimes Allen broadcasts live from clubs like The Rogue, but even when he's in the studio, there's a wild, anything-goes feel, something that's sorely missing from the FM dial in Phoenix.
Jacy Shepherd mans the boards at Wickenburg's Real Country 96.3 FM (you can pick up the station here in the Valley, no worries) from 4 to 7 p.m., and her sultry, smooth voice works wonders toward easing the pain of afternoon rush-hour when paired with modern country hits from the likes of Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins and classics like "Big Bad John," by Jimmy Dean. The freeways may lock up during her shift, but Shepherd has a calming style, whether she is practicing her Spanish on air or just playing the part of the "aw shucks" country girl and remembering the clouds of dust in her rearview mirror as she drove down dirt roads in her past. Yeah, we wish.

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