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Dispatches from a cowboy past: a one-room classic country radio station (barely) holds on

Before KHIL was pulled off the air by its new owners in October 2018, the radio station for Willcox in Arizona had been broadcasting classic country music to the small town’s residents and passersby for more than half a century. While much of the United States has moved on from sparsely strummed songs of whiskey and heartbreak, such music still very much defines this remote place: the singer and Western star Rex Allen (1920-99) is Willcox’s most beloved native son, and the Rex Allen Arizona Cowboy Museum and Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame its most notable attraction. In Lonesome Willcox, the US filmmakers Ryan Maxey and Zack Wright profile Mark Lucke, KHIL’s unlikely lone employee in the station’s waning days. Living and working from the studio, Lucke keeps the classic country crooners alive for the town’s mainly elderly population, who sense their heritage and way of life being buried beneath the Arizona dust. But while Lucke finds satisfaction in playing songs that lift the locals’ spirits, he has a complicated relationship with the boozy, ne’er-do-well characters that populate them, following his own abusive childhood.

19 November 2018

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