Best Spanish-Language Journalist 2011 | Valeria Fernandez | People & Places | Phoenix
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.
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.

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