Best Cultural Podcast 2017 | Limited Engagement | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Whether podcaster Jared Duran is talking to indie icon Robyn Hitchcock, Arizona roots musician Jon Rauhouse, or storyteller Jessie Balli, he’s got an ear for hearing. Quietly pushing his guests to explain their processes and artistic drive, Duran takes the long-game approach, allowing conversation to unfold organically and welcoming insightful detours. Associated closely with literary journal Four Chambers, he tends toward lit guests — like Paul Mosier, Clotee Hammons, and poet Jia Oak Baker — but Duran’s just as engaging speaking with filmmakers and musicians. And like all great podcasters, he understands that he’s part of the draw, opening each episode with a thoughtful rundown of his recent thoughts on current events and cultural touchstones.

Alt-AZ's morning lineup got a jolt of frenetic energy recently by adding radio vet Mo Ro to handle the a.m. airwaves. After establishing herself with the midmorning slot, Mo Ro quickly assumed the mic for what amounts to FM prime time last year. Quick with quips and nerdy trivia, Mo Ro's been a breath of fresh air on the mostly dude-dominated morning show scene. Whether spinning local music with her Homegrown With Mo segment or talking comic book, sci-fi, and pop culture trivia with her Nerdgasm News bit, Mo's enthusiasm and love for Phoenix is infectious. Her hilarious personality helps give Alt-AZ the boost a proper morning show needs.

Ted Simons, the host of KAET's Arizona Horizon, knows the Valley. He's been here three decades, hosting radio shows on KTAR and KZON, always demonstrating a blend of warm humor and deep knowledge. It's no surprise Horizon recently won an Emmy — Simons has that kind of vibe. The host got his start at KAET, and his dedication to the station is clear. Discussing the Diamondbacks, local politics, the arts scene, or anything else on his plate, Simons aims for balanced voices and digs deep with his interview subjects, displaying a calm demeanor even while fostering healthy debate.

Whether she's describing the scene at a heartbreaking funeral for an entire family that perished in a flash flood, or recalling her hilarious journey (spoiler alert) across the finish line at her first marathon, Stina Sieg can tell the hell out of a story in all the best ways. She's a reporter for KJZZ, our local National Public Radio affiliate, where she works tirelessly to find, report, and recount other people's stories. We've also been lucky enough to hear her onstage at various storytelling events around town (including New Times' own Bar Flies), telling her own tales. We're never disappointed. Sieg's got the gift and the heart, and we know her story's just begun. We can't wait to hear where it takes her.

In case you haven't noticed, there's no shortage of storytelling events in Phoenix. From true stories to fiction, open mics to rehearsed readings, weekly roundups to monthly showcases, the desert narrative is now being told onstage and in front of a live audience. And yet, with so many outlets for pouring out tales of heartbreak and humor, there was still something missing up until this year — specifically, a space for black voices. Cue Phoenix native Rachel Egboro. The Storyline co-founder launched her own quarterly storytelling series, The Whole Story, to showcase a more comprehensive narrative of the black experience. In her first two shows, Egboro proved that she could bring not just the diversity of the black community to the stage, featuring everyone from stand-up comedian Anwar Newton to BlackPoet Ventures' Leah Marche, but also a packed audience of listeners from all backgrounds to the theater. Needless to say, The Whole Story has opened up a whole new chapter for Phoenix storytelling.

Ever since turning a bad psychedelic mushroom trip into online comedy gold at San Diego Comic-Con in 2014, Anwar Newton has proved time and again that he's not just good for a laugh, he's good for the Phoenix stand-up scene as a whole. On top of building a following for his own observational anecdotes, the 30-something humorist has helped shape a community of other local comics who hone their craft at Newton's signature shows: the monthly Literally the Worst Show Ever with co-host Dan Thompson at Valley Bar and the weekly This Week Sucks Tonight at Crescent Ballroom. For upcoming shows, jokes, and posts about Ja Rule Day (a December 9 holiday invented by Newton and recently recognized by Ja himself) follow him on Twitter @thenawarnewton.

Eisner-nominated Arizona artist Tony Parker has drawn big-name characters like Batman and Wolverine for DC and Marvel, but it's his indie projects that showcase his style best. With writer Paul Cornell, he launched This Damned Band, a '70s rock 'n' roll epic laced with occult overtones. More recently, he teamed with writer Alex de Campi for Mayday, a similarly psychedelic Cold War story loaded with druggy escapes and all-too-topical Russian conspiratorial ruses. Parker's style is expressive and detailed, with psychedelic flourishes that evoke the late '60s and '70s. One of the nicest dudes in comics, you can find Parker at events like Phoenix Comicon and on Twitter, where he discusses politics as much as comics news.

Phoenix puppeteer Stacey Gordon doesn't need directions to get to Sesame Street. The woman behind Grand Avenue's Puppet Pie studio has been there and back, playing the long-running PBS show's newest character Julia, a red-haired, green-eyed girl with autism. First appearing on the show's digital platform, Julia made her debut on the children's TV show in April 2017. And rumor has it Gordon will shoot several more episodes, which will air on the show's new network, HBO. No need to worry, though. Gordon's still based in Phoenix, and teaching puppet-making workshops when she isn't creating new creatures or performing improv.

A round of applause for Liliana Gomez. The dancer and choreographer is one of the Valley's most omnipresent performers, one who always seems to be organizing festivals, teaching kids, and championing her fellow creatives. It surprised exactly nobody when Gomez took home a Mayor's Arts Award for her contributions to the community in 2015 — nor when she nabbed an Artist Award from the 2017 Governor's Arts Awards. Over the summer, she brought the first-ever BlakTina Dance Festival to Phoenix, putting the spotlight on work by black and Latinx choreographers. What's next? We'd put money on another well-deserved award or two.

When Phoenix City Council member and stalwart fiscal conservative Jim Waring discovered that his sunglasses had gone missing, police launched an in-depth investigation to find the culprit. They watched surveillance video from the Phoenix Public Library's Mesquite branch, where the $300 prescription lenses had disappeared from the men's bathroom. They identified a suspect, described in police reports as wearing "a desirable hip pack (better known as a fanny pack)," and traced the license plates of cars leaving the library. They even tested DNA from a camouflage hat that the alleged thief had left behind. But despite all that, the sunglasses are still at large. Shortly after the Arizona Republic's Alia Beard Rau reported on the saga, a novelty Twitter account titled @JimsSunglasses popped up. "It's an insurance fraud. He buried me in the desert," the Twitterer explained.

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