Best Weekly Radio Program 2012 | Totally Jazzed with Johnny D. | People & Places | Phoenix

We love John "Johnny D." Dixon's other program, the Sunday night free-form excursion Mostly Vinyl, but his Monday night show, Totally Jazzed, takes the cake, as Dixon digs deep into his trove of Blue Note, Impulse, and rarities from Arizona's own jazzy past. Dixon's not afraid to get far out, balancing the smooth sounds with some of the farthest-out stuff you're likely to hear on a station other than New Jersey's WFMU. It recalls the kind of stories we've heard about Dixon on long-gone alternative station The Zone, when he'd play freaky jams in the midnight hour. The only difference (beyond the time slot)? He doesn't have to pray the station owners aren't listening.

In 2008, Arizona Republic columnist Dan Bickley had the dubious honor of getting his ass handed to him by Phoenix Mercury captain Diana Taurasi in a lopsided game of HORSE. While the acerbic sports scribe might be wanting when it comes to athletic prowess, we're willing to wager that he would've wiped the floor with the WNBA star had it been a sports trivia contest. Bickley's a know-it-all wiseacre who's got the gift of gab as well as the ability to break down the intricacies of the sporting world. (His insights into last year's enraging NBA lockout were quite astute.) Ditto for his co-host Mike Jurecki, a football aficionado who has his finger on the pulse of the NFL and plenty of dish on the Arizona Cardinals. Each weekday during afternoon drive time, the pair gathers around a hot mic to casually shoot the shit with each other as well as with first-time callers/longtime listeners eager to join in the conversation.

Easy call here, and we're not just talking about the National Public Radio component of this top-drawer outfit. Steve Goldstein, who hosts the locally produced Here and Now for an hour on weekdays starting at 11 a.m., does a heck of a job, bringing on topical guests from all walks of life (disbarred ex-County Attorney Andrew Thomas one day, a New Times reporter the next). And the local morning news team does a great job, as well. But, of course, we are slaves to the daily news shows All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and BBC Newshour, if only to avoid the screamers and shouters who dominate the airwaves both locally and nationally these days.

We previously honored this veteran Phoenix journalist's longtime 9 p.m. co-anchor, John Hook, and now it's Lake's turn in our spotlight for three simple reasons: consistency, a natural curiosity, and a direct and concise way of explaining things. And she's on Fox News, no less, a network known to squishy liberal types for slanting the news to fits its preordained political point of view. Lake knows the Valley, having been a TV "personality" here for going on two decades. We wish that her employer would unshackle her for more projects, like the half-hour special she wrote and anchored a few years ago on landmine removal efforts in Cambodia. We can't remember the Phoenix connection to the mini-documentary, but Lake did a great job on it, so what the hell.

The true stars of the TV news biz often are those whose faces we rarely see on-screen — the camera people, editors, and, yes, folks who produce what passes locally for "investigative" journalism. Our winner, who universally is known in media circles as "Z," is outstanding at what he does, which is to identify, organize, and execute some pretty in-depth yarns for local public consumption. He has been over at Channel 5 for well more than a decade, which in that line of work equates to about a century. Zermeno knows this Valley and this state like few other journalists, and is as comfortable working with "talent" (on-camera reporters, especially the usually excellent Morgan Loew) in a desert outpost on the border as he is on Phoenix's often-mean streets. Z's stories stand tall in a TV market not known for producing many riveting exposés, and for this we applaud him.

We miss J.W. Brown, a fine longtime journalist turned PIO who ably represented the county judicial system as its spokesman before (sadly) getting on the wrong side of certain powers that be at the courthouse. But the pair left behind, Funari and Arra, also are top-notch and accessible. Funari is an exceptionally pleasant gent who would rather chat about his beloved Philadelphia Eagles than about the high-profile case of the moment, which is fine with us. Arra is a vocal diehard Arizona Wildcat, no easy task in this ASU-dominated neck of the woods.

Most important, these two promptly get us the information we need when we need it (now, of course!), and for this we thank them.

Though it seems long ago, it's been just a few years since the great Arizona Cardinals quarterback came within one play of leading the formerly pathetic local franchise to a Super Bowl win. One year (and another concussion or two) later, he finally retired from the game that brought him fame and fortune. With Kurt's departure, it seemed we'd seen the last of wife Brenda, one of the more visible and chatty football spouses around. But the Warners, who are the parents of seven children, have given new meaning to the old saw "giving back" to the community. Besides Kurt's slightly askew appearance on Dancing with the Stars and a new autobiography by Brenda (One Call Away), the couple has continued unabated with charitable work here and around the nation. Their foundation, First Things First, has helped dozens of Valley kids and families financially and, to hear them tell it, spiritually (it's a "Christian-based" charity). The couple have built homes with Habitat for Humanity, nail by nail. We desperately miss Kurt as a player, and the Cards miss him even more. But he and Brenda seem to be everywhere doing good works. For this, we call them all-stars.

Ah, the best-laid plans of mice and, well, gay sheriffs. Paul Babeu seemed well on his way to a seat in the U.S. Congress earlier this year when a story in these very pages about his purported threats against his Mexican-born lover derailed that dream, most likely forever. It was one of those stories that really was better than fiction. Babeu had been a one-trick pony (or stallion, as he may like to think) up until that point, a ubiquitous national talking head on the bad things that illegal immigrants continue to mean for God-fearing Americans and the rest of us schlubs. Now he's stuck — if voters re-elect him in November — as the Pinal County sheriff. As for Orozco, what he wants most is for his ex to "pony up" a lot of money in a pending lawsuit. Just another Arizona love story gone awry.

They're known as Team Awesome: a crew of young people from different walks of life, brought together by a burning motivation to end an ongoing campaign in Arizona to criminalize their existence.

This army of activists pushed Latinos in a West Phoenix community to increase their voter turnout by nearly 500 percent, successfully electing a second Latino to the Phoenix City Council in 2011.

How these kids found each other is almost as amazing as the work they do on a daily basis — registering new voters, inspiring dormant voters, explaining to both why their vote matters, and spreading the word about worthy candidates to potential voters across the Valley. It started with a young, but experienced, organizer named Joseph Larios working with the Maricopa County Democratic Party. During a visit to Grand Canyon University in search of new recruits, he found Viri Hernandez. The pair later showed up at a Maricopa County Community College board meeting during talks of tuition hikes for undocumented students, where they heard Tony Valdovino, a fiery young man speaking boldly in opposition to the inevitable increase. And so it went, each new recruit bringing in more high school, community college, and university students — many undocumented immigrants — who were willing to walk during the blistering summer heat, pack into cars without air-conditioning, and sleep on their members' living room floors when they were short on cars but wanted to get an early start out in the field the following day. Why? To spread a message to the Latino community that casting a ballot for a politician who supports them in their fight for national immigration reform and passage of the DREAM Act, and resists laws that criminalize their mere presence in the United States, is casting a vote for a better future. As they note on their Facebook page, they have a "keen eye for leaders . . . [and] know how [to] mold them into someone more powerful than they ever thought possible." These student volunteers may not all be able to vote, but they are voting vicariously hundreds — make that thousands — of times through their eligible friends, families and neighbors.

Anyone who remembers (and really, how could anyone forget?) Jan Brewer's brain fart heard 'round the world during a live televised debate during the 2010 Arizona gubernatorial race must have been impressed with how surefooted our governor was during a TV interview in August at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Why, she didn't hesitate for a moment in offering her endorsement to — Barack Obama. Seriously, doesn't that woman have a handler? Or a giant hook, maybe a gong nearby? No, no, there she was, offering a big grin and a complete sentence — all about how confident she is that Obama will secure our borders and do our country proud. Later, Brewer told reporters she had been tired. Um, okay. Let's hope she rests up before she has to make any important decisions. Or speak in public again.

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