Best Country Radio Station 2015 | KSWG 96.3 FM | Nightlife | Phoenix

96.3 Real Country doesn't play exclusively vintage country — you'll hear hits from Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley, and even some of that "bro country" stuff that's all the rage — but the station does lean toward old-school Western sounds, meaning DJs like Erika Smith Royal, Mark Mayfield, Ralph Davis, and morning show cards Dingo and Cole will spin classics by Bocephus, George Strait, Wynonna Judd, and more. Broadcasting from Wickenburg, a town with Western appeal to spare, Real Country's vibe is no B.S. and homespun, and its DJs sound at home on the air.

Part of the Sierra H Broadcasting empire along with old-school station Mega 104.3 FM, 101.1 Owners Jay Brentlinger and Steve Szalay are veterans of the Air Force and National Guard, respectively. They named their company "Sierra H" for a slang term meaning "hot shit," and that's a good description of what the station plays, spinning classic hip-hop from the Pharcyde, LL Cool J, Tupac, Snoop Dogg, and Biggie as well as songs from rap's modern stalwarts like Lil Wayne and Jay Z. Morning jock Hospe is one of the best in the Valley, blending hip-hop news and hilarious sketches, and his playlists exemplify everything you want in a heritage hip-hop station: modern classics alongside vintage ones, with an eye toward the future.

Community-driven and -staffed by a dedicated group of volunteers, Radio Phoenix is unmatched in diversity and passion. The station's music programs cover sounds from afar and our own backyards, and they do it well. Kaja Brown's alt-hip-hop show HipRawk Nation, roots program Full Moon Hacksaw, Soul Deluxe with DJ Byron Fenix all rep music not getting enough shine on commercial stations, and the station's locally driven shows, like Yab Yum's Bungalow Show, Arizona Music 586 (staffed by Phoenix's local musicians' union), and local reggae legend Walt Richardson's My World of Music are among the most comprehensive and interesting on the station. Select programming is simulcast on KVIT 90.7 FM and 92.7 and KWSS 93.9 throughout the week, but it's all available — to Phoenix and the whole globe — online.

It's hard to know what exactly is going on when you find yourself tuned to 87.9 FM in Phoenix and listening to harsh noise, bizarre dubstep, and other unclassifiable mixes from the desert underground. Broadcast illegally, this is pirate radio at its weirdest. The signal comes and goes — but it's always streaming at, an insanely designed site that features a message that sums up the station's uncanny appeal: "look i know we are no web desighners [sic] but fuck it this az we just make shit up as we go." By the time you read this, it's entirely possible that the station has vanished like a ghost from the FM dial, but don't be surprised when it shows back up again, making little to no sense at all, the exact opposite of what you'll hear anywhere else on the radio.
Heather Hoch

The bearded brewers at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. in Gilbert need little introduction in the craft beer scene at this point, and they are used to people lining up for their beer. But when the Bear Wallow Berliner Weiss, one of their signature opening beers, hopped back on the menu, the line just got bigger. This sour-style beer was one of the first to be produced locally, setting the bar for breweries to begin sourcing local grain, which, like much of their beer, is built from Hayden Mills Sonoran White heritage wheat. At only 3.2 percent ABV, you can taste every last nuance — and go back for more.

Evie Carpenter

This little distillery in Tempe has big ambition, the kind that's led to a distinguished Double Gold medal at the San Francisco Spirits competition for its Desert Dry Gin. To be sure, judges, local bartenders, and drinkers alike are enjoying Arizona terroir like never before: in herbaceous gin. Sourced from locales like Cottonwood, the gin features a 5-C's lineup of botanicals: cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, cumin, and citrus. Of course, there's our friend juniper, and a little lavender, and apple as well.

With a few clever tricks up their sleeves, Phoenicians long have known how to make summers more bearable, including maintaining an arsenal of thirst-quenching and revitalizing provisions. We think of watermelon, stone fruits, iced tea, and, of course, Sand-Reckoner "W." The highly aromatic wine smells of white flowers like gardenia and citrus blossom, with traces of lavender greens. Sound like a pool area you know? "W" is a nectarous wine, tasting like creamy lemon, orange peel, sweet red apple, with undertones of tropical melon and mango. We think it pairs best with light summer fare like delicate oysters, grilled whitefish, and sweet apricot galettes. Fragrant and delightful, Sand-Reckoner "W" was made for long days of sunshine, delectable dining, and finally deciding that the summers here really aren't that bad.

Local country crooner Tommy Ash makes music inspired by the likes of Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, and Waylon Jennings, with a healthy dose of Western music thrown in for good measure. Her song "Yodelin' Blues," off Sinner's Blood, would fit in perfectly on the soundtrack to Kill Bill because her voice drifts between singing and yodeling on the song's haunting chorus. She shot a music video, directed by Tanner Locust and P.A Molumby, that captures the song's dusty aesthetic perfectly. The video is set mostly in an old, light blue Chevy, and we see images of passionate love and heart-wrenching breakup take place in the car while the band plays on faded rugs in front of a brilliant desert sunset. The sound and sights of the desert haunt the video, ending with night overtaking the band, and candles appear to light the final, dark notes of the song.

Watch the video here.

All too often, the best things in life show up when we're not looking and — in the case of night-blooming cacti — they don't stick around for long. To get scientific: Night-blooming cereus refers to a number of flowering ceroid cacti, which include a variety with buds that bloom only at night. The flowers are usually lightly colored and very fragrant, but you won't spot or smell them if you're more concerned with catching up on your Zs. By morning, they've often wilted and disappeared. If you're not planning on growing your own or running out into the desert in the middle of the night, your best bet might be a flashlight tour (May through August) at the Desert Botanical Garden. There, you can catch the bloom of the Peniocereus greggii, or Queen of the Night cacti, and your guide will know just when and where to look.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of