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.

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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

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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 ***

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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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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.

I Never Did Heroin With Dr. John. We Just Did Other Things.

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Dr. John Autograph to Airlift Mike on old Airlift Iberville Street Notepad

Hired by Quincy Jones’ staff and his daughter Jolie to record Mac’s VoiceOver tracks for their Take It Back Foundation, I first met the Nite Tripper in the Airlift Productions Iberville days during NOLA’s raucous early 1990s.

He walked in without pomp or circumstance, no entourage, no fanfare, no feathers, solo… but just as cool as the other side of the pillow.

Our job wasn’t anything to do with music, it was all about VoiceOver – he’d been cast as the Yak in Quincy’s animated PSA to promote recycling efforts and it was destined for use in movie theaters, television & MTV across America that summer.

We phone-patched to Los Angeles and together with Stevie Wonder, Ozzy Osbourne, B.B. King, Natalie Cole, Pat Benatar, Charlie Daniels, Barry White… and Bugs Bunny…

With a hip-hop beat straight outta “In Living Color” – Fox’s big hit at the time – it all showed-up in movie theaters like this…

Dr. John’s 1st visit to Airlift Productions – as “the Yak”

Some recording session, I’ll tell you that.

When Mac, not even asking if he could smoke, pulled out a Cheroot and lit it up, we rushed an ash tray into the booth without giving it a second thought. Sort of.

And when he asked if he could “use the facilities”, I took him up in the elevator to the Iberville Street living quarters, to the bathroom, where he encountered my then-one-year-old son Benjamin.

Imagine, if you can, Dr. John setting his walking stick aside, so he could pick up your child, hold him… and whisper sweet voodoo nothings in his ear!

Our second session, the following year, was all about VoiceOver for an awards presentation, wherein Mac was hired to record the introduction to accompany this big, splashy video – all about New Orleans legendary Red Light District!

Dr. John “Special Events Magazine” Awards Show Intro – 1993

Our paths – and stars – would continue to cross through the next couple decades, most notably at New Orleans’ Big Easy Entertainment Awards Shows.

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Dr. John & Airlift Mike, Big Easy Awards Show New Orleans 1995

I was honored to act as ‘Live Announcer’ for the show for ten consecutive years and Mac, being the one and only Dr. John, would be along many years to receive an award, or just to perform.

Just. As if.

My favorite memory was the year his mother flew in from NYC for the show, so Mac tracks me down and tells me that he wants me to meet his mama… and together we made the trek across the Fairmont ballroom so I could give my regards to his Dorothy.

Indeed, while Mac’s bouts with smack/heroin through the years are the stuff of legend, he had successfully navigated those choppy waters and was ‘clean’ the entire time I ever was fortunate enough to talk and record with him.

Through the years – the recording sessions & Big Easy Awards – we talked and laughed of many things… his love for New Orleans, his love of music, the ‘Big Picture’… existential things like living a life with “one foot in this world… and the other… in the other”!

Much in the way that Time Magazine caught his candor here…

Dr. John, with some pretty amazing answers… and questions.

The last time we ever spoke to each other?

It was at the funeral for Cosimo Matassa, New Orleans’ legendary, seminal recording engineer and producer.

Along with a Who’s-Who of New Orleans music royalty – Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Quint Davis, Deacon John Moore, Benny Grunch – we’d all gathered to say goodbye to Cos, the big mac-daddy that started it all down on Rampart all those years ago.

Dr. John had flown into NOLA from NYC to say his final farewell to Cosimo down at Lake Lawn.

Now, here in 2019… it’s his turn.

Yeah, we all may very well be ‘whistling past the graveyard’ but, damn – nobody whistled that tune better than Dr. John!

And just like ‘dat, mellifluous, mesmerizing, mystical Mac moves on… from New Orleans & ‘da World.

Sort of.

I mean, there IS the matter of all that fantastic music he left us.

Deepest thanks for all that hoodoo voodoo that you did so well, bud.

Nighty-night, Nite Tripper.

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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

Airlift Productions – From Dream to Reality Brick by Brick on Iberville

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Airlift Productions 3927 Iberville Street location, under construction in 1989

If you ever recorded at or visited or got silly during Friday ‘happy hours’ at the now-the-stuff-of-legend Airlift Productions Iberville Street location … have you ever paused to consider what it took to create that remarkable space?

It’s not too bold a statement to say that my blood is quite literally in the mortar that holds the very bricks in this wall together!  For though I am not a mason or a brick layer, I certainly played one in 1989 on Iberville Street.

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Airlift Productions Proprietor Micheal Ziants ~ like a proud papa ~ at the Airlift shingle, Iberville Street, NOLA 1992

With the help of just one other guy (Joe Delery now works in the crime division of the NOPD), I also pounded the nails, hung & floated sheet rock, packed insulation, laid carpet, and wired the entire facility. Whew! 

And oh, the people who were destined to walk through that front door to record within these walls … Peyton & Eli’s pop Archie Manning,   Mayor Marc Morial, his mother Sybil, the Rev. Avery C. Alexander, Dr. Morgus the Magnificent, Ronnie Lamarque, I CAN Learn founder John R. Lee, WDSU’s Norman Robinson …

Dr. John Autograph to Airlift Mike on old Airlift Iberville Street Notepad
Dr. John Autograph to Airlift Mike on old Airlift Iberville Street Notepad

Dr. John (Mac Rebennack), Oliver Thomas, Senator Jon Johnson, Congressman Bill Jefferson, Academy Award winning documentary film maker Charles Guggenheim, Anders Osborne, Theresa Andersson, Bishop Paul Morton…

And a whole host of radio rebels, stand-up comics, misfits, in-laws & outlaws!

The mantra through the entire construction stage was ‘Build it…and they will come!’  What a passion, what a studio… what a time!

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Airlift Productions – as it looked in 1992 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.

 

** A “Mike McCann” classic VoiceOver/Production Demo from the 90s, all produced on Iberville with R-R tape – for NOLA clients like WVUE-TV, Pat O’Brien’s, Times-Picayune, etc. ***

But as much as I loved this location, Iberville street, the elevator, my Endymion parties, and having Venezia’s Italian food, Angelo Brocato’s, Mandina’s & Liuzza’s but a block or two walk away … I flooded twice at this location – and this was well before Mother Katrina came to town!

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Airlift Proprietor Micheal Ziants outside the Iberville haunts, shortly before the 2001 move to Pomona

So, I ran with my prophetic visions and in early 2001 moved the entire Airlift Productions business well out of the flood plain and to the high ground just the other side of the now-infamous breached 17th Street Canal .  To start over.

Yet again.

But Airlift on Pomona – along with its construction & marketing challenges – is the story for another blog and another time.

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Amy Landon recording audio books at Airlift Productions New Orleans, March 2017

“Working with Airlift Mike in NOLA was an utter pleasure. I was in town for business for a month and needed to maintain my audiobook recording schedule. Mike was accommodating and a pure professional. He mastered the punch and roll technique in 24 hours to be ready for our first session, and over the course of the month we laid down 5 books and a number of auditions. His studio sounds great. The vibe & atmosphere can’t be beat. You’d be hard pressed to find a better recording studio in the southeast – no matter what your needs. I wish I could have stayed!” ~ AMY LANDON, Los Angeles-based Actress & Ultra-busy AudioBook Narrator

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New Orleans Premier VoiceOver & Recording Studio  ~ Audio Alchemy from the Big Easy … since 1984

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

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Airlift Mike And My Time With “The Saints”

While I daily walk with ‘the saints’ – ya know,  guys like Paul/Saul of Tarsus, Francis (of Assisi), Sister Thecla, et al – this post is all about my years and stories of time spent with our New Orleans Saints.

It all began way-y back in 1983.

As the young (er) DJ/Q-93 Radio air personality Mike McCann, doors were opened to me that, quite frankly, not everyone gets to walk through.

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Times-Picayune Ad for that Mike McCann dude back in the mid-’80s

Together with Walton & Johnson (new to NOLA and also new to WQUE-FM radio), we emceed talent shows, cheerleader competitions… I even hosted Ladies’ Nights at the Airport Sheraton’s nightclubs known as Nightlite and Valentine’s.

My ‘job’ on those nights was to entertain – walk the club with a wireless mic, run crazy contests, give away concert tickets, albums (yes, vinyl), tell jokes, and keep the party going.

The club was packed every night and the dance floors were jammin’ to the likes of Rick James, Prince, Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder….

Morten Andersen, as he looked in those studly Valentines/Airport Sheraton days

The regular crowd on those poker-hot wild nights included Morten Andersen, Brian Hansen, Dave Waymer, Saints new & old, even members of the then-fledgling U.S.F.L.’s New Orleans Breakers.

In the ’80s, the Saints’ go-to kicking team was Morten Andersen & Brian Hansen, and one night I showed up for Ladies Nights only to find Morten & Brian, dates in hand, waiting in line to get in!

Of course, I helped them ‘cut’ the line. Wouldn’t you?

Saints’ Defensive Back Dave Waymer (1958-1993)

Legendary Saint free safety, the late Dave Waymer (ole #44) was a regular, sitting at the end of the bar through many a night. I have fond memories of Dave,  the laughs we shared, as well as the the way-too-many Canadian Moosehead beers he would send my way.

Sadly, upon exiting NOLA for brief stints with the 49ers & Raiders, Dave died suddenly on his North Carolina farm at the age of only 34.

In the early ’80s, now-Pro Football Hall of Famer Morten Andersen, the Great Dane, was new to the states & New Orleans, while I was freshly-minted as the new afternoon drive guy on Q-93.

Upon meeting in ’83, we bonded, talked on-air together, laughed and swapped stories, hung-out at the clubs together, even chased a woman or two together. Great guy, great times, greater stories. 

And not many fit for a blog post.

Ole reliable #8, Archie Manning, in a classic shot from his Saints days

Fast-forward to the ’90s, and in the early days of Airlift Productions, in the Iberville Street years, my audio production skills, voice and writing came to the attention of Archie Manning.

Archie, together with Mississippi bodybuilder Steve Smith, created Archie Manning’s Golds Gym at Cleary and Veterans Blvd. in Metairie, and I began a two-year run working alongside Archie to promote the gym.

This involved regular meetings with Archie, my writing of all the spots, audio production, and regular studio visits to record with Archie.

Like this gem we produced for Christmas one year…

** Archie Manning’s Golds Gym – Christmas 1992 radio :60 **

While I’ve never met his boyz Peyton & Eli, I’ve sure shared some amazing times with ole #8, the dude that started it all!

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Deuce McAllister records PSA TV VoiceOvers with Airlift Productions, NOLA

I first met and recorded living legend & ‘ground pounder’, the Saints’ Dulymus “Deuce” McAllister in 2016, after being sought out to record his voiceover tracks for the Mississippi State Child Protective Services Department.

Together, we phone-patched to their offices and captured his voice for use in a PSA campaign that ran all over MS. radio & TV for a cause that Deuce & I hold close to our hearts – keeping our kids out of harm’s way.

‘Nuff said. But what a great, humble, and soft-spoken guy this is.

The one Saint that stuck?

The one I still run with and call a good friend?

Brad’s trading card… gee, smells sorta like bubble gum

Brad Edelman.

St. Louis-bred Brad Edelman, ole #63, was drafted by the Saints in 1982, got to NOLA just a bit before me, and went on to become the first offensive lineman in the history of the Saints selected to the NFL Pro Bowl.

He exited the NFL in 1991, began a thriving photography business, took up drumming, the harmonica, acting – and took to hanging out with yours truly.

Brad Edelman & Airlift Mike, having a laugh at Airlift Productions NOLA, 2017

Brad has come to my Endymion parties on Iberville Street, got to know my family, bought me lunches… and has spent a lot of time around my Airlift Productions recording, laughing, and, well, just being brotherly.

Give a listen to Brad’s wailing harmonica as he backs up Richie Lenz (former WDSU-TV Anchor/Sports dude) on this post-Katrina ditty we entitled, “I Ain’t Livin’ in The Bowl No More”, here….

** Post-Katrina Therapy with Rich & Brad ~ Oh my! **

Through my now-36-year run here in New Orleans running the Airlift Productions Studios – from Iberville to Pomona – I’ve certainly got more than my share of colorful stories.

But my days/daze with our New Orleans Saints, young & old, still with us and those departed, are among my favorites.

And today, with so much of my work centered around the AudioBook field, I was joking just the other day with son Ben about Drew Brees.

Come on, I told him, if I’ve already recorded James Carville, Mary Matalin, Congressman Steve Scalise,  & Necar Zadegan for the top AudioBook producers in NYC… even personally read “The Chef” for James Patterson’s gang….

Drew Brees entertains a captive Sunday Superdome crowd

Upon hanging up the cleats and retiring, walking away from the game,  it’s safe to say that ole #9 Drew’s got a book or two in him, right?

Stranger things than this have already happened – one day he’ll need a great space, a finely-tuned recording studio, together with an experienced and reliable producer, to lay it down…

“Drew Brees, take #1…”

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​”Airlift Productions in New Orleans – Perfect sound in the booth, amazing engineering, and Mike is a man of all trades who can do voice work as well. (Probably the most golden-toned voice I have ever heard and we’ve all heard some lovely voices)… I cannot say enough nice things about the experience of working with him.” ~ LISA CAHN, Veteran Producer, Hachette Audio Book Group, NYC

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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

VoiceOver Recording & Production … with a New Orleans twist