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 Valley airwaves is still a thing.
Metro Phoenix’s radio dial is populated with stations offering a variety of genres, from powerhouses like KYOT and KNIX playing popular songs to such low-power broadcasters as indie favorite KWSS.
We’ve compiled a list of the best stations that the Valley has to offer, many of which were previously featured 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.
Best Country StationKNIX 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 LoCash — 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 StationKSWG 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 Erika Smith Royal, Terri Clark, Ralph Davis, and 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 dozens 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.
Best Hip-Hop StationPower 98.3/96.3
The predictability of FM hip-hop stations is much bemoaned, but the staff at Power 98.3 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. On weekends, the station’s Power Mix features local DJs like Madd Rich, Javin, and Complex spinning modern hip-hop standards with classics and deep cuts. It's the sort of soundtrack you might hear at a club and the kind of live, fresh content that is so sorely lacking from commercial radio.
Best R&B Radio StationMega 104.3 FM
Walking the tight rope 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 Beat, 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.
Best Spanish-Language StationLa Campesina 101.9 FM
The Phoenix branch of Radio Campesina (there are also stations in Yuma, Las Vegas, and central California) boasts the hottest mixes en Español in the Valley, airing tunes by renowned Latin pop and regional Mexican artists like Paulina Rubio, Gerardo Ortíz, Calibre 50, and Los Tucanes de Tijuana. You can also regularly hear tunes by such pioneers like norteño innovator Marco Antonio Solis and ranchero legend Vicente Fernandez. La Campesina also features talk-radio programs throughout the week geared toward the issues facing immigrant families. Whether listeners are looking for hot tunes or want to sound off on the issues, Radio Campesina's got 'em covered.
Best Alternative StationKWSS 93.9 FM
KWSS is the local radio station that could. The independently owned operation, which can be found at 93.9 on your FM dial, has been broadcasting choice selections of indie and alternative rock across Valley airwaves 24/7 for the past 15 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, including Dani Cutler, Jay Cairo, Dubs Witma, and owner Frank Magarelli.
They put together the station's playlists (which include 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. KWSS is also the only place in the Valley you can hear esteemed radio personality Jonathan L. broadcast audio oddities via his legendary Lopsided World of L program, as well as the sort of tunes that aren't on other local rock stations. In a landscape dominated by giants of the airwaves, KWSS stands a bit taller than the rest.
Best Hard Rock StationKUPD 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 Classic Rock StationKCDX 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.
Best Jazz/Blues StationsKJZZ 91.5 FM
During the day, KJZZ broadcasts NPR content and exclusive news and culture reporting about Phoenix, but at night, the controls are handed over to jazz DJs like Blaise Lantana and Bryan Houston. On Sunday night, the station devotes five hours to Those Lowdown Blues, blues musician and club owner Bob Corritore's 30-years-running blues program, which features the disc jockey spinning dirty Delta blues, gritty R&B, and gospel. From hard bop to smooth progressive tunes, KJZZ remains the standard for jazz and blues in the Valley.
Best Classical StationKBAQ 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 wake-up 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 StationOldies 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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