Have You Heard About the Big One That Got Away?

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“Gator” (Wakeman Linscomb) & Airlift Productions Proprietor “Mike McCann”, the Q-93 Wake-Up Krewe, entertaining N’awlins in 1989, and laying-down tracks at Airlift Productions on Iberville

It happened again last night. 

Even though I haven’t worked LIVE on the radio this century, the dreams persist.

I’m on-air in a control room in the 1970s or ’80s, or more to the point, locked-OUT of the control room… records are running out… I can’t find the right commercials… DEAD AIR!

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a full-page ad in Sunday’s Times-Picayune promoting WQUE’s Mike McCann

Town-to-town, packing, unpacking…. making new friends, saying goodbye to old friends… up & down the radio dial… AM, FM… ego trips, bad trips… but through it all —- 

Radio was without question the most fun I ever had with my clothes on!

And the people and towns it brought into my life informed my life – and changed it. { Cue the flashback harp music glissando …}

It was 1989, and after many years freelancing, I was ‘seduced back to the dark side of the force’… and re-entered radio for a brief while here in New Orleans at WQUE-FM/Q-93 as one half of a morning team, partnered with this character called ‘the Gator’.

While we only lasted a short while as a team on-air, there was magic! At least enough to catch the interest of an agent. An agent who then parlayed our airchecks into a LIVE On-Air three-day audition at Boston’s top-rated WZOU over Christmas of 1989!

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(L-R) Micheal Ziants (Mike McCann), Comedian/Actor Sinbad, Gator on-air at Q-93 New Orleans in the Fall of 1989

Steve Rivers, program director at the time, flew the Gator and me into Boston, put us up at the Boston Harbor Hotel (pretty swanky) and we actually woke up the city of Boston, Mass for three mornings that winter!

I’m at a loss for words to explain how vibrantly thrilling and exciting this whole process was. Working LIVE on-air, walking a tightrope without a net ( no ‘take two’ as is done in a recording studio ), in a strange town … and all in the days before the internet & the world wide web … you know, when radio was really radio! Wow!

Listen to just some of the madness, excitement and fun of this on-air audition at this monster of a radio station here —

**** Gator & McCann  On-Air @ WZOU-Boston 12-14-89 ***

The absolutely precious WZOU "Zoo-Cat" logo - complete with headphones, as it appeared on bumper stickers & T-Shirts in 1989
The absolutely precious WZOU “Zoo-Cat” logo – complete with headphones – as it appeared on bumper stickers & T-Shirts in 1989

Now, to ‘cut to the chase’, we were not hired at WZOU. After all was said and done – and believe me, much was said and done – management decided that our act would not fit-in in Boston … and we flew back to New Orleans without a contract.

Funny the way life works. When I think how differently my life would have turned out had we gotten this job it makes my head spin.  Me, a Yankee again? No Airlift Productions? Erase my over thirty years of contributions to New Orleans media & history? I think not.

But was it ever fun!  And still makes for quite the story over beers with the guys, or when we sit around comparing battle scars in the radio wars … or, like the fishermen here in Sportsman’s Paradise – talking about the big one … that got away.

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Nathan J. Robinson, while recording at Airlift Productions, October 2019

“Mike is a master of his craft, a true audio artisan. The long days I spent recording my audio book with him were a joy. First and foremost, he is a meticulous professional who wants to make sure that the production achieves the best possible quality. Because of his extensive background as a voice actor, he can coach you in exactly how to make something sound serious, credible, and powerful.

And because he built the whole studio himself, he knows how to get the most out of his equipment and produce exceptional recordings. But more than that, Mike is not just a skilled producer. He’s a great guy, with a tranquil life philosophy that will put you at ease and make you feel comfortable enough to give your best effort. He knows how to make you feel good, from the mood lighting to his calming presence in your headphones. He’s funny, too, and has lots of great stories from his long career in radio.

I truly had a blast working with Mike and will write another book just to do a new audio book with him.” — NATHAN J. ROBINSON, Editor in chief of Current Affairs magazine and author of Why You Should Be A Socialist.

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from New Orleans since 1984

Confucius + John Saint John = Airlift Productions

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“Try to remember the kind of September, when you were a young & callow fellow…” ~ Airlift Productions Proprietor Micheal Ziants as John Saint John, in the WKBO, Harrisburg, PA studios, circa 1976

It was the ancient Chinese sage Confucius who once said, “Choose work that you love… and you will never have to work a day in your life”. Joseph Campbell amplified this comment with his admonition, “Follow your bliss!”

Furthermore, the Cherokee used to tell their children that we are all ‘born with a song’, and that we all need to learn to sing that song. Not someone else’s song…. but our unique song.

Airlift Mike with the Tribe of Ziants, front porch, Youngstown, Ohio, circa 1962

Well, I actually used to fall asleep as a pre-teen kid in Youngstown, Ohio with a transistor radio tucked under the pillow, listening to far-off radio stations in Chicago (WLS & WCFL) and New York (WABC) dreaming of one day being a radio star.

To communicate with someone unseen without wires over great distances was to a kid the stuff of magic.  I wanted to be the magician – badly.

The millennial of 2019 would not even recognize the time.  At all.  No internet, no world wide web… no iPhones, iPads, iPods, or apps.  Video games?  Excuse me? Pong & Pac-Man were hardly even on the horizon. The compact disc & video tape hadn’t even been invented yet, let alone ‘cloud storage’ or DVD.  The 7-inch 45 rpm record, the audio cassette, and reel-to-reel tape was it. And it was magic!

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Along the banks of the Susquehanna River, Harrisburg, PA … 1st WKBO Music Survey – 1973

My very first rock radio job – being a disc jockey, an air personality – was at WKBO Radio in Harrisburg, PA.  It’s where I really discovered my true love – communications.  It’s where John Saint John was born.  It’s where I learned how to work a microphone as though it were a warm human ear… instead of a cold metal object.  And it was magic!

** Micheal Ziants as John Saint John On-Air WKBO Radio, Harrisburg, PA – 1977 … with Listener Introduction **

But the afternoon air shift wasn’t the full story.

Everyday duties – in addition to the air shift – included production! Every day… of every week… for five straight years, I produced radio commercials.  Little did I realize, but the seeds were being sown for Airlift Productions…. one day… way down yonder in New Orleans. Boy, was it ever magic!

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Airlift Productions’ Micheal Ziants, as alter ego John Saint John, standing behind John Travolta’s brother Joey at a WKBO Radio promotion, Harrisburg East Mall, 1977

** Micheal Ziants ON-AIR at WKBO Radio – Summer 1978, shortly before the move to KSD, St. Louis **

Work I love?  Following my bliss? I tell you what, give a listen to the LIVE On-Air WKBO Airchecks within this blog … and then you tell me.

And the challenge of translating all this On-Air fun & drive into self-employment as a recording studio owner & VoiceOver Talent is the subject for yet another blog, another day.  But, oh, what days/daze these were….

“Try to remember the kind of September, when you were a young and callow fellow….” ~ from the Fantasticks 

MichealZiantsAkaJohnStJohnWKBO-1976

Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy & Magic from NOLA since 1984

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JohnDenneyRecordsVoiceOverAtAirliftProductionsNOLA“For voice over actors, the demo serves as a calling card and is unquestionably the most important tool in the pursuit of voice over work. Mike Ziants and Airlift PROductions produced my first VO demo and within weeks I landed my first job in the industry. Airlift’s state-of-the-art recording studio combined with Mike’s wisdom and expertise provided me with an excellent demo as well as the confidence needed to achieve success!” ~ JOHN DENNEY, founder & lead singer of the Los Angeles-based ’80s Punk Band The Weirdos – AND VoiceOver Talent

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Love & War ~ Airlift Productions Records James Carville & Mary Matalin

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James Carville & Mary Matalin on Meet the Press, along with former BFF, the late Tim Russert

Opposites attract. No, huh?

In “Love & War: 20 Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters & One Louisiana Home”, James Carville and Mary Matalin detail a life few could imagine, let alone live!

A life lived at the intersection of Power, Politics and a Changing America … and while in the middle of it all, trying to keep a relationship together and raise two daughters – all at the same time.

And, boy, does politics ever make for strange bedfellows! James steered the Clinton presidential campaign both times (even steered him through the Lewinsky scandal), and Mary, who served under both Bush presidencies, was IN the White House the fateful morning of the 9-11 attack in the skies over Manhattan. Bush wasn’t. Mary was.

Their stories, their first-hand accounts, their front-row seats to some of America’s most fascinating recent history are palpable, riveting, and most remarkable.

And capturing it all through the Airlift Productions microphones for posterity in the audio book version of “Love & War” simply has to be one of my most remarkable gigs so far this century.

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Mary Matalin and James Carville tell it like it is one Sunday morning on Meet the Press … and later on, at the Airlift Productions studios in the audio book “Love & War”

The sentiment, the candor, the forthright honesty, the raw emotion. Admittedly, I felt alternately like a coach, a cheerleader, a psychiatrist … and even a priest in a confessional!

One of my fave stories from James was of his trip to Miami for the Saints SuperBowl win, wherein he details being on the field with Drew Brees, then off to the shuttle bus for transport back to the hotel. On the bus, he re-connects with the legendary Archbishop of Orleans Phillip Hannan. Then, who steps on the bus but Kim Kardashian, who’s “seeing” Saint running back Reggie Bush at the time. Imagine, if you can, James – now sitting in between these two and facilitating the introductions! Oh my. Comedy ensues…

** Airlift Productions’ Micheal Ziants reflects on his first-of-many recording sessions with James Carville, along with some classic James quips and thoughts … oh my! **

The very first day I recorded with Mary Matalin, she showed-up dressed to thrill! All dolled-up and made-up, decked-out for a night on the town – ah, to record with me in a dimly lit studio all afternoon? H-m-m…, I said, whaddup with dat? Well, after four arduous hours at the mic (a quite impressive feat, I might add), she stands up and says, “Well, gotta’ go, Bill’s in town!” And just like that, she & hubby James were off to dinner in the French Quarter – with Bill Clinton!

I could go on and on about our collective twenty-some hours of recording and working together, but you get the idea.  One of the – if not THE – most fascinating sets of recording sessions I’ve ever logged at the Airlift studio and witnessed.  Let alone orchestrated!

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Candid shot of James Carville taking a break from the Airlift mics, in the Airlift ‘Green room’ on the cell with Stephanopolous ~ and with his feet on my ping-pong table!

The News, it has been said, is History – the First Draft. And two ‘Wrongs’ don’t make a ‘Right’. But three ‘lefts’ will!  

As a profound political atheist, I don’t have a dog in this hunt.  But in the case of these two, I was certainly thrilled to be saddled-up and along for the ride.

JamesCarvilleAndMaryMatalinRecordLoveAndWarAtAirliftProductions

Airlift Productions is proud to have served as the audio launch pad for “Love & War”, available as an audio book via all the usual outlets. Preview it, or grab a copy – CD or download – from Amazon here.

And the next time you hear that old line, “Politics sure makes for strange bedfellows!” – now you know the rest of the story.

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Micheal Ziants and Political Firebrand James Carville at the Airlift Productions Studios in 2012, after recording James’ “It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!”

“I have been in studios from the Bayou to the Beltway, and I can say after recording my last two audio books with Mike, that there is no better place than Airlift Productions.  The quality of the production, the studio, and frankly, the comfort, make it the only place I want to record now or in the future.” ~ James Carville, Tulane professor and Campaign Strategist behind the most dramatic political victories of our generation.

** Airlift Productions – Audio Alchemy from NOLA since 1984 **

Mike McCann/John Saint John… Goes Country?

The now-vacant 45-story Plaza Tower, towering over the New Orleans skyline

With Ken Burns’ epic PBS mini-series documentary on Country Music now being splashed across flat screens all across America, someone cue the “flash-back” harp music….

One of my more obscure contributions to the media DNA of New Orleans was performing as morning drive air personality on the ill-fated  rockin’ country WQXY, Y-96 FM.

While continuing to operate the Airlift Productions studios, then on Iberville Street just off Carrollton and Canal Street, early mornings in late 1989 and early 1990 found me on top of the Plaza Tower building near the Superdome waking UP the Big Easy.

And, WHEW! What a view.

Today in 2019 the same frequency is under Entercom rule and plays classic rock under the Bayou 95.7 banner. 

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“Mike McCann” (seated) in the Airlift Productions Iberville studios, along with ‘the Gator’, circa 1989

But 29 years ago it was a different game in a different town.

Y-96 FM was an ill-fated attempt to unseat NOLA Country mainstay WNOE … from, ironically, an ill-fated building, that since Katrina in 2005 has remained vacant, and a subject of asbestos-tainted controversy.

But that’s another story all together.

Here’s mine.

As the radio fates would have it, a former on-air buddy from the old Nashville days at WLAC, Smokey Rivers (Fred Flanzer), had stepped-in as consultant to Ric Frances (WQXY GM), and I was offered the morning drive position.

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Airlift Productions – as it looked in 1990 on Iberville Street … Reel-to-reel analog decks, outboard gear & mixer, the way recording used to be done. Oh, if only you’d lived then, kids.

So, while continuing to operate Airlift Productions with all my freelance jobs – WGNO-TV, Ronnie Lamarque, The Esplanade Mall, WNOL-TV, The United Way – I also covered mornings for the Y-96 FM Waking Krewe!

Sample just a taste of “your morning M & M on the FM”, sandwiched in-between Dolly Parton, George Strait, Ricky Van Shelton, and Roseanne Cash, here …

** “Mike McCann” WQXY, Y-96 FM, January 1990 **

Ironically, John Volpe (mentioned here as a fellow air personality) today in 2019 is still a super salesman for the Entercom krewe, which today operates this frequency 95.7/Bayou; and Terrell Robinson (featured here) just recently hung-up his “spurs” & headphones after decades of plying his trade as traffic reporter in New Orleans.

Funny, isn’t it, how some things change, and others remain the same.

Here in 2019, country music sure has changed, the radio stations and owners (like an adult game of musical chairs) sure have changed, but the one now-decades-long constant in the whole NOLA media mix?

Airlift Mike and Airlift Productions.

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“My experience with Airlift Productions was top notch from the start. My company is based in Los Angeles and I had a client that needed to do a last minute VO session in New Orleans. Micheal was incredibly knowledgable and accommodating, not to mention a blast to work with! Our session turned out beautifully. ” — Lizz Rantze, Executive Producer, Rantze + Raves Productions, Los Angeles, CA

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If You Knew Pomona Like I Know Pomona…

Naples, Italy statue to the Roman Goddess Pomona

(To be sung) As the old tune goes, … “She’s Oh, Oh, Oh what a gal!”

Pomona may be just another street to neighbors & friends here just outside New Orleans, but to me it’s a lot, lot more.

After flooding at the Iberville Street Airlift Productions location TWICE through my 1989 – 2001 stay, just off Carrollton & Canal, I re-located the whole biz to suburban Metairie well outside the ‘bowl’ that is Orleans parish in March 2001.

Pomona sits on Metairie ridge, naturally above the flood plain and, ironically, not even a mile from the now-infamous 17th Street Canal which breached and gave America the historical tragedy known as “Katrina”.

Airlift Mike & trusty mascot The Shadeaux

Furthermore, the Bonnabel subdivision here in Metairie seems somewhat preoccupied with the Holy (or otherwise) Roman Empire.

Really.

I routinely walk my Airlift Productions mascot the Shadeaux past streets named “Nero”, “Claudius”, and “Feronia”. Go figure.

Punchline?

Rome’s mythological muse & sweetheart Pomona

Well, unbeknownst to most of my neighbors and friends here in the ‘hood, Pomona is the ancient Roman mythological goddess of fruitful abundance! 

Not that she gets that much attention here in this hectic, frantic-paced #MeToo generation, but check out her Wikipedia page here.

Living, loving, playing, and, yes, working from Pomona for what is now over 18 years, and having found a success beyond my wildest dreams, I’d have to say that perhaps the Romans were onto something here.

Fruitful abundance?

Airlift Productions Pomona Game Room, right next to the studio doors

Well, lemme see here, through my tour of duty on Pomona, I’ve seen in/out the studio doors… Chef John Besh, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Dr. Morgus (the Magnificent), Ronnie Lamarque, James Carville, Mary Matalin, Steve Scalise, Deuce McAllister, Quvenzhane Wallis, Alden Ehrenreich, Toby Kebbell, Morris Bart, Lee Zurik, Greg DiLeo, Rich Lenz, Norman Robinson, Rachel Wulff, Camille Whitworth, Heath Allen, “Miss Linda” Mintz, Theresa Andersson, Stacy Head, John “Spud” McConnell, Edoardo Ballerini, Ed Clancy, Jamie Neumann, Scott Walker, the Krewe of Nyx, Bradley Edelman, Anne Gisleson, David Menasche, Mike Church, Nathan Ales, P.H. Fred, John R. Lee, and, well, even some folks you may have heard of.  (I know, cheeky, huh? But try Googling just a few of these names…)

And from the high ground on Pomona, I’ve produced work that encompasses most all media – from Radio spots, TV VoiceOvers, Educational Software, Radio Imaging, Animation VO, Website Explainers, Industrial Narrations & Podcasts… to Phone Messages-on-Hold, CD-ROMs, and AudioBooks.

Furthermore, I’ve been blessed to have my AudioBook recording efforts include work with the biggest AudioBook producers on Earth – Penguin, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Blackstone, Harper, Listen-Up & Random House.

Rubens’ artwork depicting Pomona displaying her, well, uh, “fruits”

So, while I indeed thank the One True Living God for the inspiration and effort to have made the move to Pomona all those years ago… let’s not leave the old gal herself out.

For all dat voodoo that you do… Thanks, Pomona!

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Airlift Productions – we’ll leave the mics hot… and the light on for you.

Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from NOLA since 1984.

Morgus + Airlift Mike + Halloween 2019 = 1 Magical NOLA night!

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The Original Airlift Productions – before digital, the internet & mp3s – in the closet of my one-bedroom apartment – 1985

I first met – and recorded – Morgus The Magnificent back in 1986 in the very first version of Airlift Productions – the closet of my one bedroom apartment at Rock Creek just off Clearview Parkway in Metairie, Louisiana.

Of course I’d heard all the stories about this New Orleans icon, the mad scientist, Saturday nights since 1959 with entire families & sleep-over parties huddled around cathode ray tube TVs as Dr. Morgus, wrapped around horror/sci-fi movies, would unveil his latest zany experiment… I’d just never met the man.

Relatively new to NOLA at this point – and acting as Station Voice and Producer with Tribune Broadcasting’s WGNO-TV – I was asked to meet with him and record some tracks for his newly re-launched television show “Morgus Presents”.

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E.R.I.C. the talking skull records VoiceOver at Airlift Productions

Sid Noel showed up that night and we went on to record knee-to-knee (it was a closet, right?) all the E.R.I.C. the talking skull voice tracks to be used in all the upcoming broadcasts.

Fast-forward the tape to 2019 and Uncle Sid and I are still at it!

Through the decades we’ve worked on many a project together, but none more ambitious than what we’ve got cooked-up for New Orleans, all its “Higher Order” devotees … and this Halloween.

Sid turns 90 years old this Christmas day 2019 (where do you think the Noel came from?) but not before we roll-out his One-Night-Only One-Man-Show — An Evening with Sid Noel: Recollections of a Mad Scientist.

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Sidney Noel Records VoiceOvers and More at Airlift Productions New Orleans

On this one night – October 13th, 2019, the night of the full moon – LIVE on-stage at New Orleans’ Orpheum Theater, Sid will address his generations of fans as himself, the genius (my words, not his) behind the mad doctor for the very first – and last – time!

There are a LOT of Morgus videos on YouTube – but none that were recorded last week!

He’ll rip back the curtain (ala the Wizard of Oz) and reveal all the secrets and bizarre stories never before heard by anyone about one of New Orleans most beloved & iconic television stars… directly from the mouth of the man that made it all happen.

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Airlift Productions’ Micheal Ziants appearing with Dr. Morgus in an episode of “Morgus Presents” – circa 1989

Honored I am to tag along on this wondrous night as his 21st century Chopsley, as I will assist “the Master” acting as emcee for the affair, as well as offering my voice over chops for the opening film presentation…

“Morgus History” – Audio to Opening Video for Oct. 13th 2019 show –

This promises to be a night all of New Orleans will never forget!

Which brings me to the REAL point of the evening… not forgetting.

You see, the entire show, all these memories, all these efforts… are to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association and their quest to find a cure for this devastating debilitating disease.

Furthermore, the entire show will be recorded and preserved on DVD, with all proceeds moving forward in perpetuity going directly to the krewe at the Alzheimer’s Association.

For research.

For a cure.

For HOPE.

The queue for tickets to this once-in-a-lifetime magical event forms here… Tickets via TicketMaster – “An Evening with Sid Noel: Recollections of a Mad Scientist”

Perhaps, just perhaps, this mad doctor is not so mad after all?

Join us, won’t you?

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“Michael is without a doubt one of the most versatile audio and production experts in the industry. “ Norman Robinson, Former CBS White House correspondent & WDSU News Anchor, currently Voice Talent, Coach & Mentor

NormanRobinsonRecordsVoiceOverAirliftProductionsNOLA

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Airlift Productions – we’ll leave the mics hot… and the light on for you.

Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy & Digital Magic from New Orleans since 1984

You Are Now Free To Roam About the Universe, Robin!

Robin Williams-RIP_8-11-14_at age 63_By his own hand

*** Today, August 11th, 2019, as we commemorate the 5th anniversary of Robin’s passing, allow me to dip into the Airlift Blog archives with sentiments penned while the loss was fresh. Because through five years time… my thoughts remain unchanged. ***

As the planet wrestles with the untimely demise of comedian/actor Robin Williams – together with the weighty issues of depression & suicide that his death has raised – I came here today to unpack a few of my many thoughts & emotions on the subject.

As a comedian and comic, his gifts were no doubt unique and unparalleled.  But it was his strides as an actor, along with the roles he chose, that were so endearing … searing and slow-cooking his memory indelibly into the hearts & minds of countless millions planet wide.

Sure, we first met him as ‘Mork from Ork’ along with his Johnny Carson stand-up/fall-down performances … but it will be his turns as anarchist DJ Adrian Cronauer in ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ and metaphysical teacher John Keating in ‘Dead Poets Society’ that will ring forever, echoing in eternity.

Gee, and I haven’t even mentioned ‘Good Will Hunting’, or perhaps one of your favorites.

Rare indeed is the actor who can make us laugh uproariously … and then cry uncontrollably.  Paroxysms of laughter … followed by oceans of tears.  And thought.

It has been said that there is no genius without a touch of madness. Seneca, who tutored emperor Nero, once opined that, ‘Whom the gods would destroy – they first make crazy’.  There is little doubt that sweet soul Robin lived his very life dancing on the edge … and this past Monday morning … went over it. 

Depression.  Suicide.  Some say his problems were financial – divorces, bad business decisions, putting too much faith in the wrong people.  Some say he was frustrated – accepting acting jobs just to ‘pay the bills’, didn’t care to revive and resuscitate that ole’ Mrs. Doubtfire … the explanations and excuses will persist ad infinitum and ad nauseum.

But the simple fact is this….

Suicide is a very permanent solution to what is in most cases  a temporary problem.  Things change.  They always will.  It defines a life.   But not a death.

Robin, oh Robin.  ‘Oh Captain, My Captain’, but why did you have to seize the day … that way?

Let’s face it, The Great Spirit/ the Father/Creator of All that is Seen and Unseen –  is not too jiggy with suicide.  The idea of throwing away His great gift of a Life is abhorrent in His Eyes.

Perhaps there are exceptions.  Who knows?  It defines the word ‘hubris’ to think that you and I could actually think like God.  You know, put ourselves in His shoes … or sandals, if you will.

After all, His eye is on the sparrow.  Perhaps it’s on the Robin too.

Mr. Williams, since you’ve dropped your body … you are now free to roam about the universe.

But don’t blame us if we say that we’ll miss you.  🙁

Robin Williams with daughter Zelda ~ his final Instagram post
Robin Williams with daughter Zelda ~ his final Instagram post

Airlift Mike Runs Off To Join The Circus & The Greatest Show On Earth

Airlift Mike (as John Saint John) personal certificate proclaiming him an "Elephant Equestrian Extraordinaire" in the Greatest Show on Earth
Airlift Mike (as John Saint John) personal certificate proclaiming him an “Elephant Equestrian Extraordinaire” in the Greatest Show on Earth

While here in 2019 Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus has given way to changing times, dwindling ticket sales & digital distractions, as well as a growing respect for the dignity of all animals – and taken down the tent poles for the FINAL time …

Allow me to sidestep the front-page politics and animal rights issues for some rather remarkable personal reflection.

“Mr. Peabody, set the Way-back machine for 1978!”

It was May that year, shortly before my WKBO/Harrisburg exit for St. Louis that yours truly – as John Saint John – felt the calling.

“The Smell of the Greasepaint and the Roar of the Crowd!” OMG!

As afternoon drive air personality for five years at WKBO, I was invited by the PR Team at Ringling Brothers to ‘run off to join the circus’ to help promote the circus coming to town.

Gunther Gebel-Williams showing-off! Hey, it's his JOB.
Gunther Gebel-Williams showing-off! Hey, it’s his JOB.

That May day in 1978 I showed up in Hershey, PA to help out with the circus parade, as all the animals made their way from the nearest train tracks on to the Hershey Park Arena for the show.

Gunther Gebel-Williams himself (long-famous at this point for his appearances with Johnny Carson & Ed Sullivan), the heroic, blonde, Germanic ‘Caesar of the Sawdust’ & Head Animal Trainer shouted to me, “John, let me help you UP”

John Saint John high atop the largest elephant in the Greatest Show on Earth
John Saint John high atop the largest elephant in the Greatest Show on Earth

He then cupped his hands at knee-height, I stepped in, and he proceeded to catapult me to the top of the largest African bull elephant in the show for my circus parade ride to the arena.

Wow-ee-wow! There I was riding this humongous animal bareback, no saddle – his skin felt like corrugated cardboard – and there I was, steering him as I held him BY THE EARS!

As if this experience wasn’t already enough, after reaching the arena I was escorted past the maze of entertainers from all over the world, listening to a symphony of foreign tongues from all around the earth… to a makeup trailer.

Lou Jacobs, Dean of Clowns for over 60 years with Ringling Brothers
Lou Jacobs, Dean of Clowns for over 60 years with Ringling Brothers

Inside this trailer I was introduced to Lou Jacobs. Now at this point Lou was the Dean of Clowns. Imagine, he performed with Ringling Brothers for over 60 years, and is the guy credited with inventing the “Clown Car”.

So, Lou proceeds to personally make me up for the show… red-nosed, white-faced, arched eyebrows, a shockingly-orange wig and some crazy duds, so I can join them IN PERFORMANCE!

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Micheal Ziants all ‘tricked-out’ as a Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey ‘Clown for a Day’, Hershey Park Arena, May 1978

Now I’m IN the “Clown Car” – a wild customized VW Beetle with all the seats taken out and the windows painted so no one could see in, and they pile a dozen of us into this one little car.

We tear into the arena on-cue and are stopped to a screeching halt on the sawdust by a fellow clown cop who then proceeds to knock us all out as we exit the car!

All to the shrieks and howls of the delighted packed crowd.

What seemed so remarkable at this moment to me was that this was the first time I’d ever made people laugh – WITHOUT EVEN OPENING MY MOUTH!

MichealZiantsRinglingBrosCircusParadeHersheyPaMay1978Heading back to my humble apartment later that May night I couldn’t help but feel a bit small, you know?

Backstage at the circus I listened to every voice and tongue you can imagine, from entertainers who’d traveled from all over the planet to Hershey, PA – the high wire act was from Rio de Janeiro, Gunther & Lou were from Germany, the dog act crowd was Parisian, etc. – and I was just this over-hyped, fast-talking, ego-filled American disc jockey, born just north of Pittsburgh in New Castle.

But I certainly learned a lot about life that day. About community. About teamwork. And a love & appreciation for the most majestic creature on the face of the earth – the elephant.

Oh, and one other thing.

LIFE really IS a Circus!

And we’re not talking metaphor here.

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mike church“When I need BIG ‘I-know-that-guy’s-voice!’ sound for any production I am working on, the first call I make is to Airlift Mike.  Micheal’s penetrating vocals and second-to-none production quality give my movie & audio feature projects the instant respectability they need.   If you want to sound like a pro, meaning no one gives a second thought to your audio because it is so well executed, you want to call Airlift!” ~
MIKE CHURCH, Former World-Famous Sirius/XM Talk Show Host, Founding Father Film Maker, Writer & Producer of ‘The Spirit of ’76’ and ‘The Road to Independence’ & Creator of the Veritas Radio Network’s Crusade Channel

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy & Digital Magic from New Orleans since 1984 

Airlift Productions: A Life Lived In The Hurricane’s Eye

AirliftProductionsInTheHurricanesEyeThe National Weather Service defines the “Eye” as the region of mostly calm weather at the center of strong tropical cyclones.

Metaphorically, the ever-changing media & technology would be the tropical cyclones/hurricanes, and  Airlift Productions & I would be the ones who have for over thirty years resided… calmly, persistent & steady, in the hurricane’s eye.

Airlift Productions New Orleans Logo Re-boot 2012 by Ethan Anderson
The Airlift Productions logo, conceived & trademarked in 1984, and re-imagined for the 21st century

In 1984, the needs of my first full-time client – WGNO-TV/Tribune Broadcasting – gave birth to the Airlift Productions Studios. That very year Ronald Reagan sat in the Oval Office, the compact disc was brand new, and top-rated  CBS affiliates WWL-TV WWL radio here in New Orleans were owned by Loyola University (“World Wide Loyola”) and… the Catholic Church.

From the changing complexion of the White House to digital music distribution (and piracy), TV/radio deregulation and consolidation,  and from Loyola’s WWL ownership to Gannett, Tegna & Entercom … my, how the media and technological winds have blown!

Meanwhile, through all the changes and through all the years, Airlift Productions and I have resided calmly and ever-persistent in the Hurricane’s Eye.

A recent Search Engine request for just two words “Airlift Productions” yielded the most remarkable result – in the Images section was an internet-search-generated montage of a Life lived in the Hurricane’s Eye…

Bing Search Engine “Airlift Productions” Image Montage 2019

There was every studio I’d ever built – from the closet at Rock Creek Apartments to Iberville to Pomona.  There was Norman Robinson, Rich Lenz, Heath Allen, Deuce McAllister, Congressman Steve Scalise, Dr. Morgus, Rachel Wulff, Jamie Neumann, Sean O’Shea, Sister Thecla, even studio mascot The Shadeaux, the studio’s stained glass window and game room!

From radio commercials, TV voice-overs, music projects & audio books, to educational software, industrial training & safety videos,  from cathode ray tubes to flat screens and broadcast to podcast – the Airlift Studios & I have shifted and tacked into the winds of change … while remaining calm & steady in the Hurricane’s Eye.

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence & Determination alone are omnipotent.” ~ Coolidge/Ziants

                   *** Micheal Ziants AUDIO BOOK Demo ***

AirliftProductionsMichealZiantsAndTheShadowOnTheJob
Airlift Productions proprietor Micheal Ziants putting in another day at the office ~ along with studio mascot ‘The Shadeaux’

And the winds continue to blow! My grandfather John was born before the radio, my father Charlie was born before the television, and I was born before the internet & digital.

What’s next?

Well, whatever it is, you can rest assured that Airlift Productions and I will be there … in the Hurricane’s Eye.

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L-R.JoeRenierMichealZiantsSeacorMarineShoot
Airlift’s Micheal Ziants (Right) with actor Joe Renier, On-Camera with TLW Productions for Seacor Marine … deep in the Gulf of Mexico

“We’ve worked with Mike for almost 15 years, both as voice over and on-camera talent in more than 50 films.  Not only is he a great guy and a super talent,  but he has the coolest recording studio in the South.” ~ TIM WESTON, President TLW Productions, NOLA 

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from NOLA since 1984

… we’ll leave the light on for you.

VoiceOver Recording & Production … with a New Orleans twist