Vivacious, personable, and brilliant, Cari Gerchick, Maricopa County's primary spokeswoman, makes her job look easy — when it most definitely is not. Having accurate facts at your fingertips when commenting on the business of government in the nation's fourth most populous county is a daunting task, one she does daily with aplomb. Now throw in the fact that she has to field questions about the Board of Supervisors' battles with Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Maricopa County Attorney Andy Thomas, and you begin to grok the difficulty of her position. Still, Gerchick calls 'em as they should be called, and she has never veered from offering Arpaio or his henchmen a verbal castration, when necessary. Which is why the press generally digs her, because most PIOs master the art of giving bland pronouncements — the blander the better. Gerchick is never shrill, and she chooses her words carefully, but she's not scared of sparring with the idiots who make her day. You know, the simian-like badge-bearers over at Sheriff Joe's cop shop, who must curse the day she came to work for the county and suddenly made life far more interesting for the local Fourth Estate.
If Ted Simons were a jazzman, he'd be Paul Desmond, the longtime alto saxophonist for pianist Dave Brubeck and a master of the melodic and understated amid the tumult. Simons is so well informed about local politics and Issues with a capital (and Capitol) I that it's scary sometimes. Maybe he forgets stuff as soon as he's done with an interview, but somehow we doubt that. The unflappable and fair-minded Simons continues to stand out as a straight-shooter and general good egg in a media market increasingly dominated by uniformed screamers. He makes people feel comfortable on the set, even when he's asking the occasional tough question. For this, we applaud him — loudly.
Plastic hair, shiny suits, lackluster "reporting," and corny jokes: That's what you can typically expect from a local TV news guy. KSAZ's John Hook is the exception to that rule. While KPHO ends every spoon-fed segment with a reporter squawking about how he's "telling it like it is," John Hook actually questions what politicians say to him. For example, when Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu wrote off New Times as a "conspiracy theory newspaper," Hook was quick to jump in and point out to the sheriff that "In New Times' defense, Sheriff Babeu, they have done some of the best journalism in this town over the years. I mean, they've broken some big, big stories." His defense of New Times aside, Hook is an honest, hard-hitting journalist — not an empty suit whose only talent is reading from a teleprompter. Though he's not bad at that, either.
This mighty mite stands out as a welcome dinosaur in an ugly biz that favors the young and the pretty, the easy soundbite, and the superficial. Watkiss sure knows how to sink his teeth into a yarn and not let go until he's good and ready. Case in point has been his obsessive coverage of polygamist pervert Warren Jeffs and his renegade Mormon sect: Watkiss and our former colleague John Dougherty were the only two reporters on that wild case for years, and they moved the narrative forward like good old-fashioned muckrakers. Watkiss (and the rest of us) are fortunate that Channel 3 encourages him to spend endless hours doing real journalism. End result? A great storyteller gets to tell great stories — and we're all the better for it.
Valeria Fernandez is not just the best Spanish-language journalist in Arizona, she's one of the best reporters in the state, bar none. Originally from Uruguay, this tough-as-nails Fourth Estater was once a staff reporter for La Voz. Now she freelances for outlets worldwide and works regularly for CNN Español, La Opinion, New America Media, and Inter Press Services, among others. (Full disclosure: She's freelanced for Phoenix New Times, as well.)Like that's not enough, she's been putting together a documentary about the roiling immigration debate in Arizona, tentatively titled Two Americans. One of those "Americans" is Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whom Fernandez has skewered so many times in print that he might as well be her personal pincushion. When Valeria and her fellow documentary makers posted a YouTube teaser for their film of Arpaio comparing Tent City to a concentration camp, the sheriff's flacks began barring her from press conferences. Fernandez wears it like a badge of honor, all while she sets up Joe for the next verbal take-down.
There are no DJs to muck up the proceedings, there are no commercials, and there's almost no information given as to who is behind the AOR sounds of KCDX 103.1 FM. You get the call letters every few songs, and a mysterious radio voice identifying the 2,700-watt station as being broadcast from Florence and Phoenix. KCDX plays tunes from the collection of Ted Tucker, a former pharmacist who set up the station as a showcase for a couple thousand of his favorite jams. Sometimes the station plays popular cuts from rock 'n' roll radio standards like Aerosmith or Pink Floyd, but Tucker is just as likely to throw in left-field selections from Badfinger, Fairport Convention, or The Blues Magoos, making it one of the most unpredictable stations in the Valley.
We have always loved public radio, so tuning the dial to 91.5 is a no-brainer. But lately, KJZZ and National Public Radio have really kicked it up a notch with coverage from their "Changing America" desk. Usually, names like that make us gag a little, but in this case, these journalists are more than living up to it, providing coverage not just of immigration issues but other stories that affect how we live, work, and play in the Southwest. These stories are more in-depth than what we see in the daily paper, and they blow away anything on TV. In fact, more and more, KJZZ is our go-to source for news. Right after a certain alt-weekly, of course.
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.

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