Best Phoenix radio stations: Rock, hip-hop, country and more | Phoenix New Times

The best Phoenix radio stations for rock, hip-hop, country and more

A rundown of the top stations to tune into on the Valley airwaves.
Here are the best radio stations on the metro Phoenix dial.
Here are the best radio stations on the metro Phoenix dial. Sensay/iStock Photos
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Believe it or not, people still listen to the radio these days, and not just during those fleeting moments before switching over to Pandora or Spotify. Despite the popularity of the many alternatives to old-fashioned terrestrial radio, jamming out to tunes being broadcast over the Valley’s airwaves is still a thing.

Metro Phoenix’s radio dial is populated with stations offering a variety of genres, from corporate powerhouses like KYOT and KNIX playing the latest popular tunes to independently owned local favorites like KWSS and KSWG.

We’ve compiled a list of the best stations that Valley radio offers, many of which were previously highlighted in our annual Best of Phoenix issues. It includes longtime favorites like KUPD (which has been blasting hard rock and metal since the late '70s), hip-hop standby Power 98.3, and a few quaint and quirky selections.

Take a look, and then take a listen.
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Expect to hear Jelly Roll and other current country music hitmakers on KNIX.
Ashley Osborn

Best country station

KNIX 102.5 FM
No offense to the fine rock stations of Phoenix, but if you really wanna hear music about partying — stuff in the tradition of Bon Jovi and Motley Crue — you should turn your dial to KNIX. Modern country has its detractors, but it's hard to deny the cold-beer, boot-stomping swagger of KNIX's playlist, stacked with the likes of Jason Aldean, Lee Brice, Blake Shelton and Jelly Roll — country artists unafraid of a little hip-hop-inspired low end or arena-rock crunch. Sure, they might deviate from the sonic touchstones of classic country, but the attitude and ethos are "outlaw" in their own right.

Best classic country station

KSWG 96.3 FM
KSWG doesn't play exclusively vintage country — you'll hear hits from Darius Rucker, Brad Paisley and even some of that "bro-country" stuff that's still all the rage — but the station does lean toward old-school Western sounds, meaning DJs like Terri Clark, Billy Michaels, Nick Bonsanto and weekday morning man Rick Kelly will spin classics by old-school artists. Tune in and you might hear vintage hits by the likes of George Strait, Wynonna Judd, Terri Gibbs, The Statler Brothers and others. Broadcasting from Wickenburg, a town with Western appeal to spare, KSWG's vibe is no B.S. and homespun, and its DJs sound at home on the air.
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KBAQ plays classical music favorites 24/7 at 89.5 FM.

Best classical station

KBAQ 89.5 FM
Still the Valley's only classical music station, KBAQ differs little from the longhair outlets found in other major U.S. cities – it's public-supported (and hence, subject to periodic pledge-week begging), run out of an educational station based at a college, and gets some of its programming courtesy of National Public Radio. Still, dependable “K-Bach” offers a tasty mix of specialty programming, including eerily perfect wakeup music in the early hours. And while the classical format probably makes the least demands on a programmer to stay current, KBAQ does an admirable job of staying on the cutting edge of ancient music, mixing moldy oldies by Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky with odd takes on Brahms by the French choral ensemble Accentus and Chinese chants by the Grammy-winning Chanticleer.

Best oldies station

Oldies 92.7 FM/1440 AM
We were pretty nervous when “AZ Gold” KAZG relaunched and rebranded in 2016 as Oldies 92.7, but luckily for us, there's still plenty to love. The station, which still simulcasts on 1440 AM, leans much heavier on the ’70s than before, but the tunes are guaranteed winners, like Carole King's gently funky “I Feel the Earth Move” and Gilbert O'Sullivan's “Alone Again (Naturally)”; plus, there are slips back to the ’60s with songs like Gene Chandler's classic “Duke of Earl” and The Standells’ garage rock hit “Dirty Water.”
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Legendary Phoenix bluesman Bob Corritore hosts "Those Lowdown Blues" every Sunday on KJZZ.
Dragin Trasic

Best blues station

KJZZ 91.5 FM
KJZZ recently moved its jazz selection to HD2 and its online streaming platforms to make room for more talk-oriented programming. However, the long-running FM station still broadcasts the blues every weekend over the Phoenix airwaves. On Sunday nights, KJZZ devotes five hours to "Those Lowdown Blues," local musician and club owner Bob Corritore's 40-years-running blues program, which features the disc jockey spinning dirty Delta blues, gritty R&B and old-school gospel.

Best classic rock station

KCDX 103.1 FM
We'll freely admit that some of the attraction to KCDX is the mystery. Broadcast from the desert, there are no DJs, only a long, endless stream of free-form music. You might hear prog rock crashing into country rock, or gentle folk rock colliding with chiming power pop, but you'll rarely hear the same song more than once for weeks. Big stations aren't playing The Jayhawks or The Smithereens like KCDX is, but you don't necessarily tune in to hear anything specific. You let the mysterious “Guru” who's running the show simply surprise you with a song you haven't heard in years, or even better, have never heard played on the radio.
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The hosts of "The Beatlocker Show" on Power 98.3/96.1. From left: DJ Marvel, DJ John Blaze, Ms. Lovely and Pokafase.
Beatlocker Show

Best hip-hop station

Power 98.3/96.1
The predictability of FM hip-hop stations is much bemoaned. Still, the staff at Power 98.3/96.1 have achieved a delicate balance: blasting out the hits that Top 40 listeners want to hear along with daring programming like “The Dana Cortez Show,” the first Latina-hosted nationally syndicated radio program, every weekday morning from 6 to 10 a.m. On weekends, the station features produced programming such as the social justice-focused “Civic Cipher” with Q Ward and Ramses Ja on Saturdays, and "The Beatlocker Show" hosted by Pokafase, DJ Marvel, Ms. Lovely and DJ John Blaze on Sunday mornings. Both programs provide the kind of fresh, meaningful content that is so sorely lacking from commercial radio these days.

Best R&B radio station

Mega 104.3 FM
Walking the tightrope between old-school soul, funk, and selections from contemporary artists, Mega 104.3 is the kind of station that knows how to draw the connecting line between Justin Timberlake's "Suit & Tie" to Earth Wind and Fire's "Shining Star." Things stay consistently funky, whether said funk's coming from the Bee Gees or Parliament-Funkadelic or Janet Jackson, and like its sister station 101.1 The Bounce, the grooves here seem custom-engineered for smooth, languid listening. The station is often a lifesaver on backed-up Phoenix freeways: a soft, pillowy balm for road rage.
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The rock gods of Metallica are on KUPD's regular rotation.
Herring Herring

Best hard rock station

KUPD 97.9 FM
More than any station in town, KUPD knows its demo, cranking it up to 11 with the kind of heavy-rock flamboyance that's been making ears bleed since Iron Butterfly got lost in a gadda da vida. KUPD serves up a mix of the modern (The Pretty Reckless, Motionless in White), the classic (Metallica, Pearl Jam), and the all-but-forgotten (Sponge) in equal measure, but the common denominators are volume and attitude. It's unapologetically loud fare that scores a direct hit with the air-guitar virtuoso in all of us.

Best alternative station

KWSS 93.9/99.5 FM
KWSS is the local radio station that could. The independently owned operation, which can be found at 93.9 and 99.5 on your FM dial, has been broadcasting choice selections of indie and alternative rock across Valley airwaves 24/7 for the past 19 years. And it's earned a listenership and fanbase while doing so. The station's success, however, hasn't been powered by the backing of a multimillion-dollar media conglomerate, well-monied sponsors or wide-reaching advertising campaigns. Instead, KWSS has survived and thrives thanks to the tireless efforts of its small but passionate staff. They put together the station's playlists (including deep cuts, rarities and old-school alt-rock and indie tracks, not to mention music from emerging and established local bands), host daily and weekly shows and handle other behind-the-scenes duties. In a landscape dominated by giants of the airwaves, KWSS stands a bit taller than the rest.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in July 2020 and has since been updated.
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