Monday, June 10, 2019


Last Friday we were talking about the 46% of CPB radio CSGs that, as a group, have seen revenue drop over the past five years. This is a serious issue that we will return to soon,

Today we have a story that might make you say: “Things could be worse. I could be working in consolidated commercial radio.”

The story is set in Willcox, Arizona, roughly 90 miles east of Tucson on I-10. In Willcox, there is a small cluster of commercial stations that were discarded as a result of the hyper-consolidation of commercial radio.

Debbie Weingarten

The story is told in the June 6th issue of The Guardian in an article [link] written by Debbie Weingarten titled “America's rural radio stations are vanishing – and taking the country's soul.” 

The article was supported, in part, by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and the Puffin Foundation.

Mark Lucke (image courtesy of The Guardian)

The leading character of Weingarten’s story is Mark Lucke, a man who is in charge of a small cluster of commercial radio stations based in Willcox. 

Lucke feels he has a bigger challenge. 

He is trying to preserve a sense of local identity in Willcox by playing the music of his life on his beloved KHIL-AM, once the heartbeat of his hometown.

Weingarten’s wonderful article is filled with a sense of loss. Her words brilliantly capture Lucke’s personal loss and what happens when a community looses a local service like KHIL, a vital voice that once was a connection between its listeners and town residents.

Lucke’s tie to KHIL is deeply personal and is centered on the music he heard on the radio. He grew up like a character in the movie Dazed and Confused.  Besides Lynyrd Skynyd tracks, his library is filled with country music.   

Sometimes one these songs evoke memories that Lucke finds troubling.

They take him back to times when his parents fought in front of him, spurred on by alcohol and a George Jones tune.

Music gives Lucke a release so you might hear him play Mel Tillis, followed by Van Halen, followed by to Michael Jackson. Plus Lucke plays listener requests.

Life is tough in Willcox. Lucke and his son live in the back of the station. Few people ever stop by or call KGIL. Most of the time, music drones on without any human presence via automated or satellite-fed programming.

Weingarten paints a picture of a bleak and lonely existence. 

She has created one the finest nonfiction stories ever written about life in the radio biz. 

Radio stories like this are rare, so read it and savor it, particularly if you have ever worked in small-town commercial radio.

To see and hear Lucke and KGIL check out the short film Lonely Willcox

Produced by Lucke and his associates, the film features raw and urgent narration by Lucke. 

It has a vibe similar to The Last Picture Show.  

Lonely Willcox is available on Vimeo [link].


KGIL-AM's Coverage Area
Rex Allen, the “Singing Cowboy,” founded KHIL in 1958. 

During that era KHIL prospered. It was the central meeting point in Willcox. 

KHIL gave local native Tanya Tucker her first shot on the radio, long before her hit song Delta Dawn.

In the 1980s, Allen sold KHIL, and its sister FM station, to a regional group owner. 

Things kept going pretty well at KHIL.   

But, the good years didn’t last long. Two decisions by the FCC in the 1990s changed almost everything in commercial radio.

First, the FCC repealed the “three-year rule.” It required that owners of FCC licenses for radio stations to operate the stations for a minimum of three years before being allowed to sell them.

Next came the Telecom Act of 1996. It radically increased the number of stations a single company could own in one market. The combination of these two changes set off wave after wave of station sales and ever bigger consolidated clusters of stations under one roof.

KHIL was sold several times after 1996. It became a commodity that could be sliced and diced and consolidated with other stations by corporate owners trying to get the big prize: FM licenses that could be moved to distant, bigger markets.

In those days of go-go deal making, companies moved FM signals to bigger markets to increase the value of the license. These “move ins” were sometimes called “rim shots” – a phrase that means getting the transmitter to a location where a signal could be heard in a more lucrative market.  The station would then identify as being in the new markets and forget about serving its city-of-license.

Several corporate owners tried to move KHIL’s FM signal to a location that would allow it to penetrate the  Tucson market. But the FCC never approved these plans because Tucson's FM dial was getting full and Willcox was too far away.

Screen shot fromKGIL's website

KHIL was left on a trash-heap of failed stations that couldn’t be consolidated. Therefore, KGIL became worthless to big corporate radio.

Today KHIL is part of Willcox Radio [link]. Lucke is in charge of KHIL and several other co-located stations.

The new owners operate as cheaply as possible, trying to ring every last dollar out of it.

KHIL exists as a sad place, a hollowed out shell of a American radio that was ubiquitous not so long ago.


Weingarten’s article focuses solely on commercial radio stations. It does not mention noncommercial public radio, community radio or LPFM stations. This is too bad because just 75 mils south of Willcox is a LPFM station that is doing very well and might be an example of what Lucke could have done in Willcox.

KBRP-LP is located in Bisbee, a town that isn’t much larger than Willcox. KBRP [link] brings together over 100 people who do programs that Lucke would likely love.  KBRP bought and refurbished a local movie theater that now is an entertainment destination. The combined operation has annual revenue over $125,000.

It is too bad that Lucke never considered an LPFM station for Willcox like KBRP. It could have worked nicely. Thera are plenty of open FM frequencies open In Willcox.


  1. I would like to highlight remarks made by Allan Sniffen who operates several NYC Radio tribute sites, a Rewound internet station and I love his insights on NYC Radio as an outsider.

    Allan: Who researches articles like these? How can they be so incredibly ignorant?

    AM radio is NOT NOT NOT dying because of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. That's the favorite punching bag of those who don't get it. It's dying because technology has moved past AM radio, especially small AM radio. That was going to happen no matter what the government did. In fact, it could be argued that Consolidation kept many of these stations on the air by economies of scale.

    The article makes it sound like the audience for KHIL is out there in droves and is being pushed away by big bad corporations who keep buying up stations to move them to big cities. That is just plain wrong. Whoever their expert is from SUNY Albany knows nothing.

    AM radio is indeed in trouble and these small stations are indeed on the way out -- because -- younger people don't listen. Younger meaning most people under 60. That was going to happen as the technology world improved and AM radio was squeezed out. Romanticizing what it was and writing flowery, fact devoid descriptions doesn't change that. It's like blaming the auto industry because we stopped riding horses.

    Don: Sniffen points other alternatives to radio listening including the smartphone.

  2. Hello, l am Mercedez Thank you so much for this article about my family in Willcox and the subject of your article. I just found it! I am so grateful for this. We are seeking help with the local press so your title caught my eye. No press is coming from Willcox AZ. THE WORLD IS REPORTING BUT NOT LOCALLY OR IN TUCSON. IVE CALLED AND CALLED. Left several messages. No response. NONE. I've added names and numbers on my Facebook to see if people would help me by calling them. The temperatures are rising in the radio station. No AC. Mark has a thyroid condition and heat is not good for this. The equipment has been over heating. They are overheating daily all day.They need help. Fred Jacob's is helping from Jacob's Media Strategies Blog. I'm calling him and Debbie the writer of The Guardian hero's . She did a 8 month investigation to help Mark and Tristan. He wrote an article and added links to my GoFundMe for Mark and Tristan and KWQR. l just reopened on Sunday and links to the documentary..Lonesome Willcox...Mark had the stations flourishing until less than two years ago. It has been ongoing a very traumatic with the loss of everything he owned and having to sell stuff to survive. I've been helping ever since l found out last summer. I dont know about other radio stations nearby. He has 5 there to handle in all this KHIL KAOS and yes this has played out like a western movie since day 1. MARK IS THE GOOD GUY UP AGAINST THE BAD GUY. GUYS. Im writting post daily on my Facebook and posting videos on my YouTube about everything l can think of to bring this into awareness.. l have to help my family. Please share. Thank you for caring. MERCEDEZ LUCKE-BENEDICT KWQR- KHIL PR.

  3. As heart-full as you may well be, you should have done a lot more research before writing this article. Lucke had nothing to do with producing the short film. Don't know where or when you got this information about KBRP but it is practically devoid of facts. Not a financial success, maybe 15 programmers, and the Royale in all its splendor has drained the organization. Safe to say, though, KBRP likely has a better prognosis than KHIL. Wonder how talk would work on HIL... even Tradeo?