A Radio Station for Nostalgic Cowboys

Willcox, Arizona. Population 3,500. “It’s not unlike many other towns one might pass by on the freeway while driving around the American West,” the filmmaker Zack Wright told The Atlantic.

Driving by is exactly what Wright and his co-director, Ryan Maxey, were doing when they happened to tune into KHIL, the town’s country-music station. “Were treated to a half hour of great, obscure country music as we passed through Willcox,” Wright said. The station soon fell out of range, but the filmmakers were fascinated by what they’d heard. They wanted to know who was responsible.

“When we met up with Mark, he was not at all what we expected,” Wright said. “We were picturing an old-timer cowboy type—some kind of great champion of old country music. But he was not that at all.”

Mark Lucke, it turned out, was the station’s only employee. A single parent who lived out of the office with his son, Lucke explained that he had a complicated relationship with Willcox, the townspeople, and country music in general. “In fact, he has a traumatic past with the genre,” Wright said. “He’s a bit of a tragic hero, a lone cowboy who happens to prefer metal and horror films over Rex Allen movies and country tunes. But he finds meaning in connecting with other lonely souls over the radio.”

“I’m trying to reach out of that radio and say to older listeners, ‘Hey. You can feel good again,’” Lucke says in Lonesome Willcox, Maxey and Wright’s short documentary, a wistful portrait of the town, its radio station, and the local pariah who runs it.

“Lonesome Willcox” was directed by Zack Wright and Ryan Maxey. It is part of The Atlantic Selects, an online showcase of short documentaries from independent creators, curated by The Atlantic.