Both our AM and FM stations were growing — more employees, more clients and we were outgrowing our space in Crystal Lake. The studios in Woodstock were really not a good idea for many reasons, so we began to consider joining both in one facility. We found the right building, bought a lot of new equipment and refinanced the whole debt. Then the economy reared its ugly head and we came as close to complete disaster as any small business in America. If you recall back then the prime rate rose at that time to 21%. Have you ever tried to meet a payroll and all operating expenses plus debt principal and interest at 21%? We reached a time when Maria and I decided we would need to sell Liscrona in order to keep Lake Valley Broadcasters afloat. The stations were doing very well but that 21% was just impossible.
Our banks were sympathetic but we were in big trouble. Since banks do not enjoy owning radio stations, they agreed to give us some time.
One day, my phone rang and it was my old friend from WBBM, Bill O’Donnell. Bill said, “Mal, remember when you left ‘BBM you said you wanted to see what 10 years of station ownership would create? Well, how do you feel? I’ve got a good friend who listens to your stations every day. He’s the owner of a big conglomerate named Katy Industries and he’s interested in adding some broadcast properties."
That is how I was introduced to Wallace Carroll, one of the finest gentlemen I have ever known. Wallace is an Irish-American educated at Boston College, an engineer, a tool and die maker, self made multi-millionaire and friend.
One day, Wallace and Bill and one of his associates came to our home in Woodstock. We talked, and in twenty minutes over a bottle of Irish whiskey, I sold Lake Valley Broadcasters to him — both stations. I named the price. Wallace said that it seemed fair to him, and now we could call in the lawyers and begin the old rat race with the FCC. I agreed to continue doing my show but I wanted to be talent only. I did not want to be in charge and they should start a search for a general manager. It was a handshake agreement and I would go on for at least a year to help with the transition. We were out from under the debt that had been killing us.
I remembered the hours of talk with Harold Shapiro and George Kline about my being in the business for myself and the similarity to buying an old, run down house, restoring it, improving its value and then reselling. The radio stations had worked out for us. The area was growing so it was inevitable that radio properties would prosper, especially the FM station which we had picked up for a modest sum. They were now much more successful and naturally more valuable.