Yes, before you ask, people still listen to that quaint invention known as the radio, and not just in the brief moments when they're plugging in their iPod, changing a CD, or switching over to Pandora or Spotify. Despite the popularity of the many alternatives to old-fashioned terrestrial radio, jamming out to the tunes broadcast over the Valley airwaves is something the general public does, ourselves included.
As a matter of fact, we're big fans of some of the many local stations populating the radio dial, including the seven we highlighted in the most recent Best of Phoenix issue. Take a look and then take a listen.
Best Classic Rock Station: KSLX 100.7 FM
You gotta give this station credit for being the single most solid monument to the greatest American invention since the airplane or peanut butter: rock 'n' fucking roll. But, yeah, yeah, you've heard those same old Aerosmith hits a hundred times on other stations. On KSLX, not only do they do some serious crate-digging, but they'll shoot you little factoids that educate and remind you why you love the Rolling Stones the way you do. And if the Lunchtime Theme Park and Sunday night's The Deep End shows weren't enough, there's always Six O'Clock Stoner and Gettin' the Led Out.
Thankfully, KSLX also tends to censor out the older stuff that was popular way back when but never was actually good (sorry, Mötley Crüe). So screw anyone who says this rock is just for dads. Without the jams that KSLX pays tribute to, your pops wouldn't have been able to seduce your mom and you never would've been born.
Best Blues/Jazz Radio Station: KJZZ 91.5 FM
This local jazz and blues station, also home to national NPR broadcasts, has been entertaining Arizonans since 1985, when Rio Salado College bought the station. A wide variety of genres fall under the umbrella of jazz, and KJZZ manages to play them all -- even though jazz takes over the airwaves only in the evenings from 8 o'clock on. From cool and soft to experimental and Latin, there's something for every fan. On Sunday nights, the station dips into the blues reservoirs to feature soulful tunes from days gone by.
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Yet KJZZ also keeps up with current musicians in the genre, giving them and other lesser-known artists equal air time with legends like Duke Ellington and Bessie Smith. That means listeners can tune into 91.5 at night to sing along with favorites and also discover songs they wish they'd heard sooner. In between tracks, DJs like Blaise Lantana provide educational tidbits, musings about musicians' influences and inspirations, and insights into the history of the jazz scene.
Best Country Radio Station: KNIX 102.5 FM
Between the two brand-name country radio stations in the Valley, there's only one that's recognizable from year to year. KNIX doesn't cycle through personalities, as Ben and Matt are still handling the morning show, Billy Michaels still takes care of the afternoons, and that fella in the barrel still shows up every now and then.
Now, we understand the fact that a country radio station in the Valley has to play Taylor Swift and has to play her often. That said, there still seems to be quite a bit of testosterone in the programming on KNIX, with the likes of Eric Church, Zac Brown Band, and Jason Aldean, and we're not about to complain about any of that.
Best AM Oldies Station: KAZG 1440 AM
We're not quite sure when all the FM oldies stations in town started venturing into the 1970s and '80s during airtime, but when we want to shimmy and shake to the classics, we skip over the FM dial and go right to 1440 AM. "Arizona Gold" captured our hearts with a selection of everything from classic oldie favorites like "Twist and Shout" and "Leader of the Pack" to more unique cuts like Jorgen Ingmann's "Apache" and The Kinks' "A Well Respected Man."
Unlike the frequency modulated corporate-controlled stations, the AM station has a light fuzziness in the background, adding the same nostalgic feeling that the cracks and pops of a vinyl record carry. It also means fewer commercials to sit through in between your favorite jukebox jams. Plus, in the late afternoons during rush hour they play an awesome all-Hindi music show called Radio Sri.
Best FM Oldies Station: KOOL 94.5 FM
KOOL FM really cuts the crap, playing every good song released before 1990. Unless you have no heart, you can appreciate hearing The Cars followed by Cyndi Lauper followed by Rod Stewart, and you'll be singing along like an idiot as you swerve all over the 51. Even the officer who demands your license and registration might give you a pass. (Unless you're brown. Sorry, it's still Arizona.)
Many other so-called "oldies" stations just play what your stepdad wants to hear. With KOOL FM, there are no gimmicks, no bells and whistles, and nothing but the best tunes created since your grandma first drank a beer. Plus, they do a much better job than most representing ethnic, female, and queer perspectives; i.e., it's not just four white guys with guitars all the damn time. For a station that's so rooted in the past, it's refreshing that they've managed to stay so, well, KOOL.
Best Alternative/Rock Radio Station: KWSS 93.9 FM
We don't even miss The Edge 103.9 anymore, may it rest in peace. That's because we have KWSS. After finally switching to a high-powered frequency earlier this year, KWSS is making more strides than ever in bringing the Valley its banquet of alternative, local, and just plain incredible music.
Where else can you hear songs by Love, Palms; Bogan Via; Kongos; and dozens of other neighborly musicians before and after your heart is warmed by the likes of Alt-J, Cults, LCD Soundsystem, and everything else that's cool today? No other station is pushing the envelope like these guys, with their Monday Morning Record Club (playing an entire album, from beginning to end) or their "Long Song of the Day" and "Laughing Gass" on Driving with Gass. It feels like you're listening to your friend's podcast or something, but then again, you kind of are.
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Best R&B/Hip-Hop Radio Station: The Beat 101.1 FM
Hip-hop is probably dead and that's sad. But if you're looking for a place to relive the glory days, 101.1 The Beat will resurrect you. Rarely will you hear any Auto-Tuned noise or irreverent songs about Molly or any caterwauling from Drake.
Instead, the aim of Ramses Ja, the station's music director, is to reach back into the past while looking forward and being true to that culture. Ja started out at Power 98 doing an underground hip-hop show, playing acts like Aesop Rock, Dilated Peoples, and whatever else he felt progressed or represented genuine hip-hop. Now, he continues to keep the energy flowing on the most refreshing hip-hop station on the airwaves, playing everything from Tupac to Kendrick Lamar. Maybe hip-hop isn't as dead as presumed. However, even if you do hear some corporate rap, just remember that even The Beat has to pay its bills.