“Back In The Game”, Congressman Steve Scalise & Me

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Congressman Steve Scalise records “Back In The Game” with Airlift Mike, October 2018 at Airlift Productions NOLA

I first met Congressman Steve Scalise Monday morning, October 8th, 2018 at the Airlift Productions Studios.

Hired by the Hachette AudioBook Group, based in Paris & NYC, my job was simple.

Or was it?

I would host the congressman, along with his body guards the Capitol Police, here at Airlift through the month to record and capture his personal memoir reading of “Back In The Game” for worldwide distribution.

The AudioBook recording process, even to the pro, can prove a daunting task. To a newbie, like Steve, it can prove most intimidating.

Even though as Majority Whip the congressman could and would speak on the floor of the United States House with conviction, confidence & fervor – THIS was something else altogether.

Alone. Isolated. Pensive. Painful. Hopeful.

While reflecting on a life-changing event. And one that damn near took his life.

** Steve Scalise Excerpt from “Back In The Game”, courtesy Hachette AudioBook Group **

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Airlift Productions records “Back In The Game” AudioBook, October 2018

“Back In The Game” details the congressional baseball practice shooting in June 2017 – what could have been the biggest political assassination in U.S. History – and the remarkable efforts of the police, first-responders, doctors, and surgeons who saved Steve’s life.

Not exactly light reading. 

It was harrowingly frightening, desperately challenging… and ultimately inspirational and hopeful.

Through our three weeks of recording, I hosted and made  all the Capitol Police comfortable, engineered the sessions, operated the phone-patch with our director in New York, delivered the wav files via FTP to the final producer – and bonded with the congressman.

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Steve Scalise at the “hot mic”, October 2018, Airlift Productions NOLA

Steve and I recorded for hours (over two dozen), had lunches together, shared anecdotes from our respective life-walks, laughed long and hard, and talked of God, politics, and country.

Incredibly, to this audio engineer, two of our recording sessions followed lunches he had just come from with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and another with our U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (and former two-term Georgia Governor) Sonny Perdue!

Ya know, not exactly my lunchtime cohorts down at the Subway.

Although after this rather unique month, I can now look upon this affable, personable & warmly sincere congressman as more than an acquaintance.

So, Steve, if you just so happen to be reading this – you’ve got more than just a constituent on Pomona…  you’ve got a friend.

And howzabout a rematch on that ping-pong game?

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Steve Scalise & Airlift Mike during a break from “Back In The Game”, Airlift Productions NOLA, October 2018

“Mike, I can’t thank you enough for the great job you did coaching me through the audio recording of my new book, “Back in the Game!” Since this was the first book I’ve ever written (and recorded), it was all new territory for me. You made the entire process go very smoothly, and I am incredibly happy with the final product.

I appreciate all you did to bring this book to life. You know you are really good when both James Carville and I are in complete agreement that you are great to work with!!” — CONGRESSMAN STEVE SCALISE

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Airlift Productions ~ Telling America’s Greatest Stories from New Orleans … since 1984

The ART Of VoiceOver Demo Production

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Airlift Productions’ VO session in progress with Steve Blaze of Lillian Axe fame at the hot mic

Of all the audio jobs produced at Airlift Productions, I enjoy creating Voice and VoiceOver Demos the most.

Whether working with a ‘newbie’ or a veteran, taking the written word on a page and using all the tricks in my audio producer’s bag to bring it to life, to create ART, is indeed an art unto itself.

And today in 2022 the Voice Demo runs the gamut – from commercial to animation, video games to the medical field, and from industrial narration to audio books.

Still today affectionately called a “reel”, I’ve seen the demo go from reel-to-reel tape… to audio cassette… to compact disc… to digital wav file and mp3.

Yet through all the technological changes, the heart of the art remains the same —

The copy has to ‘sing’, the reads have to be spot-on, music selection and editing, along with proper equalization, compression, reverberation, and normalization remain paramount.

Art, unlike science (although there is  a helluva lot of science involved here), is indeed a very subjective call.  And what is art to one … is shite to another.

The call here is obviously up to the reader of this blog.

Enter Exhibit A – JOHN DENNEY.

When Denney first rang my phone, he’d found my website in a Google search, had experience behind a microphone – he founded the Weirdos, an LA-based punk band in the ’80s – had moved here to NOLA, and had never done a commercial in his life.

I said, “Well, John, we’ll change all that!”

And change it we did. It began with a commercial demo (heard here); after he landed his first job within two weeks of production, he subsequently returned to produce an animation demo… and a medical demo.

                               ** JOHN DENNEY VOICEOVER DEMO **

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Rachel Wulff records her VoiceOver Demo at Airlift Productions NOLA

Enter Exhibit B – RACHEL WULFF.

A longtime television news anchor and reporter, Rachel had moved to town, had been in New Orleans about ten years, and was looking to exit the local TV scene and begin self-employment as a VoiceOver artist.

Again, like John Denney, she had a lot of on-camera and on-mic experience, but Rachel had no commercial background.

She does now.

                       ** RACHEL WULFF VOICEOVER DEMO **

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Mary Rose Neumeyer having way-y too much fun at the Airlift microphones

Enter Exhibit C – MARY ROSE NEUMEYER.

Mary Rose was all of fourteen years old, had studied acting for some five years, done some on-camera things, but was looking to spread her wings into the VoiceOver field.

After a brief pre-production meeting, we collaborated on some copy, I then coached her through all the reads and edited her demo. 

It captures promo pieces as well as commercial copy, and I’d have to say, for a “newbie”, she states her case for an on-mic job most eloquently.

                 ** MARY ROSE NEUMEYER VOICEOVER DEMO **

Finally, an entry from yours truly.

Enter Exhibit D.

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New Orleans Voice Talent & All-around Audio Dude Micheal Ziants, Airlift Mike

As I pursue the AudioBook field, I’ve  compiled a demo targeted at this particular audience; a demonstration recording completely different from the shorter commercial ones.

It also differs from the previous demos, which were “manufactured” and produced from scratch, in that this demo is actually from a product being currently sold and marketed.

So, in this case, the demo is more of a ‘sampler’.

What follows here are actual excerpts from “Murder In Coweta County”, a true crime drama that took place in 1940s Georgia and shocked the nation.

Think ‘The Sopranos’ gone south!  With mysticism, race, murder, and the police all thrown into one big gumbo….

                    ** MICHEAL ZIANTS AudioBook DEMO **

Commercial, AudioBooks, Industrial, Animation, Video Games, the Voice Demo in 2022 sure does cover a lot of ground.

Er, ah… make that “air”.

And make no mistake. Evoking this kind of emotion is an ART.

Or is it a science?

OK, how about BOTH?

Well, whatever you want to call it…

Call on Airlift Mike and Airlift Productions to book yours.

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“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 notorious LA-based punk band The Weirdos … and relatively new VoiceOver Artist

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“We’ll keep the mics hot…and leave the light on for you!”

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

Voiceover Marketing 101.1: An S.O.S. On S.E.O… What?!?

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Boy, just when you thought you had all the answers … they changed all the questions!
 
Watching classic ‘Mad Men’  episodes the other night, it hit me again as to how completely flipped and upside/down marketing & advertising has become from the 20th to the 21st century.
 
We’ve transitioned rather dramatically from ‘interruption’ marketing to ‘permission’ marketing.
 
Think about it, from the local disc jockey hitting a commercial and joking about the station ‘paying the light bill’ to the network newscaster ‘interrupting’ the news stories to have :30 spots sell you stuff … ‘interruption marketing/advertising’ was, last century, THE way to get your message across.
 
Today in 2022 even the 7 year old child skillfully navigates the remote control fast-forwarding the DVR box through the commercials … and then turns around and price-comparison-shops from a smart phone in the aisles at Target or Best Buy!
 
search_engine_marketing_ser‘Permission marketing’ in the 21st century ‘allows’ the buyer into YOUR world when he is ready to buy.  It gives the buyer all the pertinent information needed UPON REQUEST via the device they have on-hand – in many cases IN their hand – to make the buying decision.
 
So, telling your compelling story online, making yourself available 24-7-365, and letting the potential buyer know about your satisfied customers  while online has indeed become the 21st century marketing challenge.
 
And no matter the century, it’s just plain human nature that people/buyers will put more trust and faith in what other people have to say about you … than anything you have to say about yourself.
 
The power of a well worded, sincere testimonial – let alone from someone already known and trusted – speaks volumes about one’s service rendered or product offered. 
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An Airlift Productions’ VO session in progress, with legendary Lillian Axe front-man Steve Blaze at the hot mic

In a virtual world where, in many cases, the entire transaction is done without human interaction, smiles, winks or handshakes, and across miles and state lines – the testimonial creates trust!

 
And this is precisely why I’ve just recently dedicated many hours to revamping the Airlift Productions website’s Testimonial Page.
 
From local New Orleans television personalities to New York AudioBook producers, from iconic horror movie host Morgus the Magnificent to the Discovery Studios in Hollywood … from the mouth of James Carville at the Airlift mics (astonishingly, in sync with Congressman Steve Scalise’s opinion) to former Sirius/XM satellite talk show host Mike Church‘s opinion – all in their own words!
 
1407-nighttime-pomonacrateFrom VoiceOver jobs, music recording sessions & audio books… to telephone systems & educational software – Airlift Productions & I have delivered. Time and time again.  From the last century to this one.
 

So go ahead, tap the 21st-century-brakes for just a second,  hit the pause button on the DVR box, and visit the Airlift Productions~Ziants Testimonials page here – when YOU are ready, 24-7-365 – and we’ll be there for you! 

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Airlift PROductions & Micheal Ziants Website Testimonials Page
And trust me, Mad Men’s Don Draper wouldn’t have had a clue!
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Airlift Productions ~ Delivering the Goods from NOLA since 1984!
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Rhiannon Boulger & Airlift Mike at the Airlift Studios NOLA 1-6-17

“Thank you Michael for being so accommodating, and making my job truly enjoyable. I’ve recorded in many professional studios all around Australia throughout the years, but I felt right at home and was really impressed with the huge Airlift Productions recording space & booth you built. Recording with you was as easy as if I were in my own studio back in Australia – and that really makes for a successful session. All your wonderful compliments didn’t hurt the vibe either! My ego appreciates your generous, kind words. Thanks again for being such a gentleman.”

~ Rhiannon Boulger, VO Artist, Melbourne, Australia

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 nearly forty 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 change to Gannet/Tegna, and Entercom to Audacy –  my oh 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 collage of a Life lived in the Hurricane’s Eye…

Bing Search Engine “Airlift Productions” Image Collage 2022

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, Amy Landon, Dr. Morgus, Rachel Wulff, Tim Weston, 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, podcasts & audio books, to educational software, industrial training & safety videos,  and 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 late 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 mics hot and the light on for you.

You May Say I’m A Dreamer …

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John Lennon at the piano creating a vision with “Imagine”

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

~ John Lennon, “Imagine”

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As my fave old metaphysical space cowboy running partner Henry David (Thoreau) used to say, “Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air.  They are where they should be.  Now… put the foundations under them”.   And …

“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us … are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.”

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Airlift Productions’ Micheal Ziants – at age 20 –  on the first real radio job, Youngstown-Niles, Ohio, 1972.

Airlift Mike – channeling and realizing the dreams of John Lennon & Henry David Thoreau… since 1972.

So, what do you do with YOUR spare time?

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Norman Robinson & Airlift Mike, tracking VoiceOver session, October 2019 at Airlift Productions New Orleans

“Michael is without a doubt one of the most versatile audio and production experts in the industry. ” — NORMAN ROBINSON, Harvard Nieman fellow; Honorary Doctorate of Human Letters-Our Lady of Holy Cross College; former CBS-TV White House correspondent;  senior news anchor WDSU-TV, NOLA

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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

WLAC, Nashville, 1980 – and John Saint John

NashvilleStreetScene1980In early 1980, Nashville was a very different place. Today’s Country SuperStars were on the playgrounds, if they were even born yet… Conway Twitty was very much alive, George Jones was still rattin’ the Printers Alley bars… and yours truly  was ridin’ herd on the afternoon radio rodeo – as John Saint John!

Think about it: Forty-two years ago, Jimmy Carter sat in the Oval Office,  John Travolta’s ‘Urban Cowboy’ was huge at the box office, and my “office” was the afternoon drive “air chair” at WLAC, Nashville.

The internet, world wide web, digital audio and mp3 downloads weren’t even dreams yet in a tech head’s head.  Radio – and AM at that – was king!

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~ 15-WLAC Logo, during it’s final hurrah as a music station, before yielding to changing times and becoming All News & Talk in late 1980 ~

Picked up ‘on waivers’ from KSD radio in Saint Louis, I was freshly hired by Billboard Magazine to do the afternoon drive shift  from their swanky showroom studios at 14 Music Circle East every afternoon on the legendary 50,000 watt blowtorch –  WLAC Radio.

Together with RJ Harris, Spider Harrison, Dennis John Cahill, Smokey Rivers, ‘Captain Sunshine’, Randy Davis and Jeff Warren,  we held court as the last bastions of music on WLAC. 

What an exciting and truly awesome gig this was.  To work for Billboard Magazine in Music City, USA and broadcast every afternoon to the entire mid-south. No tape delay, no second takes…it was all LIVE – from my mouth into tens of thousands of ears in a split second!

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~ Airlift Productions’ Micheal Ziants as alter-ego John Saint John, in the WLAC, Nashville Studios in 1980 ~

As most know, but few give thought to, Nashville is not only Music City USA, it is also the capital city of the great state of Tennessee, so much of the talk was centered around politics. In early 1980, that talk revolved around Carter, Reagan & Bush.

And do you remember the music of the 1980s? No, we weren’t playing country. It was more like Donna Summer, Boz Scaggs, Doobie Brothers, Michael Jackson, Eagles, Christopher Cross, Kim Carnes and the Electric Light Orchestra!

That John Saint John guy served them up like this —-

~ WLAC Radio & John Saint John, Wednesday July 30th, 1980 – broadcasting from Nashville’s Music Row ~

And the doors that were opened to me as afternoon air personality for WLAC ;  to talk with – and get to know – the Legends of Nashville music:  Brenda Lee, Charlie Daniels, George Jones, Dottie West, I even co-emceed an auto show benefit for Nashville’s Humane Society with Conway Twitty!

During my brief tour of duty at WLAC, I interviewed and sat down with Eddie Money, Ted Nugent, Terry Bradshaw,  Eagles’ lead guitar Don Felder, the comic Gallagher … and Lawrence Welk ran his music publishing company in the offices upstairs – in fact, when he was in town, he’d occasionally knock on the studio window, make faces, and wave at me!

But you can never separate the words Radio & Business.  And in the early 1980s, the handwriting was on the wall – FM penetration, together with it’s stereo & higher fidelity proved the death knell for music-formatted AM radio.  And with it went my job.

In the Fall of 1980, in fact it was Halloween weekend that year,  thirteen months after I was hired, WLAC fired/terminated it’s entire air staff- “Trick or Treat”!! In favor of new owners… and a new all News/Talk format which forty-two years later it still is today.

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As I look back now, across all these years, I have to admit that it was in the subsequent days of unemployment in Nashville that the seeds of one day being my own boss, having my own business – a recording studio – were first planted.

But there were still fields yet to plow, and Airlift Productions and New Orleans were not even on my radar yet. But we’ll save Philadelphia, WIFI-FM and that wacky city of Brotherly Love for another day. 

That’s a story for another blog and another time.

In the meantime, the creative juices still bubble over daily at the Airlift Productions Studios on Pomona in New Orleans. Stop by for a cold one when you can. We’ll leave the mics hot for you!

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BoWalkerAirliftProductionsNOLA“I met Mike in the mid 80’s when I was first starting out in the business … a consummate professional and just a really nice guy. He has seen me through the highs and lows of this business during my 33 year career. I walked away in 2014. He has produced countless air checks for me when I was fired and looking for a new gig. I have recorded in all 3 of his studios from a closet at Rock Creek in Metairie, Mid City, and just recently when I recorded a few pages of an audio book as a demo for a friend/author who just released a new book. Mike is a true friend.” ~ BO WALKER, New Orleans radio legend & Former Production Director, I-Heart Media, NOLA

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

SuperMoon 2022 Musings On “The HereAfter”

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Go ahead and get caught up in the game all you want, but when you get right down to it, all Life as we know it here on the 3rd rock from the sun is nothing more than an elaborate, wildly choreographed, sexually transmitted disease!

And this just in, the Leading cause of Death … is Birth.  Just ask Olivia Newton John, Tony Dow, or Anne Heche.  Or, for that matter, the dozens of SIDS victims this week alone who never even got their chance.

As you look back upon the Super Moon, the Sturgeon Moon, hanging low in the summer sky the other night, pause to consider – not a one of us is sure exactly HOW we got here, WHY we are here, or WHEN we go home.  

But of one thing we are all certain.

You and I both have, like the milk jugs on the refrigerator door, an expiration date stamped on our forehead that we just can’t quite read.  And we all hang by a slim thread from the tree of this life never knowing the day or the hour.

We all come IN with nothing and EXIT with nothing (I’ve never seen a hearse with a luggage rack), and one hundred years from today, in 2122, every human on the planet today  (now nearly 8-Billion) will be gone!

OK, so do we meditate on this eternally universal truth to depress us … or to liberate and motivate us?  The answer is quite obvious.

We cannot ever change the cards we’ve been dealt.  Our only choice in the matter is how we play the hand!  

Life is not, as the saying goes, ‘a bitch, and then you die’, it’s more like: Life is this grand and glorious, most bodacious Amusement Park that mom & dad bought and paid our ticket for when they did the horizontal hokey pokey, the mattress mambo.

To continue the metaphor, we only get so many rides around that sun.  And, just like the carousel merry-go-round ride, our lives goes Up & Down, and round ‘n round … and eventually come to an end!  

Oh, and you must be this spiritually tall to continue riding the ride. 🙂

So as you reflect back on that big, fat Super Moon,  just a couple thoughts to ponder:

‘That which was never born … can never die’.  

The biggest part of ANY of us will never be reflected in a mirror, doesn’t show up on a scale, and will never be found in an autopsy.

And my favorite Zen Koan (riddle),  ‘Who were you … before your mother & father met?’

I’ll wait.

~ Respectfully,

Micheal Z down in dixie at N’awlins’ airliftproductions.com

p.s. And should you get a chance, increasethepeace ….mgz

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Super Moon hanging low over Broadway, New York City

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

Here in 2022 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.

As Sherman on Rocky & Bullwinkle used to say, “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!” 

You see, 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, ya 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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“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 

What Do You Do When You’re #@&% Tired Of Being Fired?!?

MichealZiantsAKA-MikeMcCannQ-93Article-1984
1984 Times-Picayune Sunday article about that new Mike McCann dude at Q-93

When folks first visit my Airlift Productions Studios here in New Orleans, one of their first questions is regarding my motivation for building such an awesome recording space in the first place.

My response? “Well, quite frankly”, I tell them, “I have an entrepreneurial drive that was forged in the fires of unemployment!”

Really.

Q-93 Memo to Staff & Times-Picayune article about Mike McCann's exit
Q-93 Memo to Staff & Times-Picayune article about Mike McCann’s exit

I just grew tired and weary of the corporate radio mentality that treated warm, talented and caring humans – with families to look after – as simple commodities!

As all of America today it seems is constantly being outsourced, marginalized, downsized and capsized, even back in the ’80s, I wanted to forge, hand-craft, and create my own future.  

Enter the Airlift dream.

AirliftProductionsRecordingStudioNewOrleans2014PromoPic
Airlift Productions Recording Studio, New Orleans, 2020 Panoramic Studio Pic. Check it out … “Weapons of Mass Production”

I would never have been at Q-93 Radio (WQUE-FM) in 1983 had WIFI-FM in Philadelphia not fired me.  A format change to “Rock of the ’80s” – Psychedelic Furs, Oingo-Bongo, Roxy Music, X, Berlin – in early ’83 led to my dismissal.

Imagine taking this excuse to the PA unemployment line bean-counters, “Well, the consultants considered my on-air approach & style too adult sounding and too mature for the new format!”  Really.

I would never have been at WIFI in Philadelphia had management not fired the entire air staff at WLAC in Nashville.  This legendary 50,000 watt radio station sat on Music Row in Nashville, was owned by Billboard Magazine at the time, and reached Canada and Cuba from the mid-south with it’s remarkable signal.

But it all didn’t matter when Billboard sold the station to new owners – who then changed the format to All-Talk/News and fired/terminated its entire air staff, including yours truly.

MichealZiantsAkaJohnStJohnWLACNashville1980
Airlift Proprietor Micheal Ziants as alter-ego John Saint John, in the production room at WLAC, Nashville, 1980

I would never have been on-air at WLAC had the Pulitzer family in St. Louis at 55-KSD not made a similar move. The radio station was sold to new owners who then changed the format to All-Talk/News and fired it’s entire on-air personality music air staff.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here?  Enter the Airlift dream.

Note that my exits from WKBO in Harrisburg in 1978 and from WQUE here in New Orleans were indeed at my own hand.

I left Harrisburg on my own terms to pursue my first major market air shift in St. Louis.  And I indeed exited Q-93 (as afternoon DJ/Air personality) in 1985 to build my own dream, to fulfill my destiny… to create Airlift Productions.

Airlift Productions was my way of taking all the skills that I’d learned working for “the man” and putting them to work for myself! I simply parlayed the many skills hard-earned and fine-tuned through all those radio years into self-employment as a VoiceOver talent and recording studio owner.

MichealZiantsAsMikeMcCannQ-93Ad-1984The final chapter?  Well, it has yet to be written.  As the old advertising adage goes… “watch this space…”

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

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Airlift Mike Onstage with Sid Noel at NOLA’s Orpheum Theater, Halloween 2019

“Dr. Ziants:

My dear colleague, it was a true delight to visit and work with you in your digital laboratory. I somewhat envy your remarkable equipment, which far exceeds anything we can afford here in the old city ice house. Your audio production facilities are second to none, and I thank you again for the excellent recordings you produced for the Momus A. Morgus Institute.” — Momus

** A tested-by-time Testimonial from Dr. Morgus (aka – Sid Noel Rideau) direct from the old city ice house to the Airlift digital lab via email.

 

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“How I Spent My Summer Vacation” ~ at Essence Fest 2018!

Airlift Mike Essence Fest Tweet July 2018

Here in 2022, as New Orleans welcomes ESSENCE FEST back to town after a lengthy hiatus (thx for nothin’, Corona),  I’m re-posting this rather unique blog from a summer that’s only four years ago…although it seems like a lifetime ago, ya know? Someone cue-up Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive!’ (Thank you, Mr. EssenceFest DJ.)

With all due respect to Jada, Tiffany, Regina, and the Queen, a “Girls’ Trip” this wasn’t! Not as crazy, foul or funky, but what a trip it was.

When the early June call came into my Airlift Productions Studios from a “Sam” at NYC’s Team Epiphany, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the proposed job.

Samantha Whidby, project manager, had found my website via a Google search, and was looking for some help at Essence Festival 2018.

Team Epiphany, as it turns out, handles some pretty hefty clients, like HBO, Nike… and Coca-Cola; and they had their sights set on making some “noise” for Coke within the Convention Center for this annual epic summer extravaganza.

The job?

Put together a team of audio engineers to man two recording studio booths at Essence Fest to engage and embrace the consumer by helping her to record unique beats on drum pads using Coca-Cola sound effects!

Yours truly, in specially designed Coke recording booth, Essence Fest 2018

What?

The beats would be then recorded to computer, saved as mp3s, and then sent to the consumer’s email address, allowing her to then save it to her phone, and even use it as her unique Coke-Essence-Fest ring tone.

Like I said, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the gig.

But make it, we did. And how!

Let the “Boys’ Trip” begin….

Kind of like Tom Sawyer’s summertime tale of talking his comrades into helping him paint the fence, within a few phone calls I’d lined-up my summer vacation posse.

“Special Ed” Pepper and “DJ-HB” Harold Bonner hard at work, Essence Fest 2018

Accomplished, yet retired,  civil engineer (audio savant and all-around tech-head) Ed Pepper, along with college student (and aspiring DJ) Harold Bonner agreed to saddle-up for the ride.

So, how did it all come out?

Well, across the entire Essence Festival weekend – July 6th, 7th & 8th – we recorded over 300 unique beats!

And gave the consumer more than a “Coke and a smile”.

We gave them customized, unique ringtones like this…

** Coke SFX Beat with R&B groove mp3 ~ Essence Fest 2018 **

** Coke SFX  Beat with Hip-Hop groove mp3 **

Gee, we sure have come a long way from the days of Mad Men, Don Draper, and those “I’d like to buy the world a Coke…and live in perfect harmony” jingles of the 20th century, huh?

But throughout history and on into the future, “youth will be served” – Coca-Cola, that is.

And beats.

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Norman Robinson & Airlift Mike, tracking VoiceOver session,  at Airlift Productions New Orleans

” I’ve had the privilege of working with professionals all over the world. Micheal Ziants is among the best of them. His professional integrity is only surpassed by his love for humanity. It is perhaps his boundless humanity that drives his passion for his work and his compassion.. to say nothing of his appreciation and understanding of the human spirit, at it’s most creative level.” — NORMAN ROBINSON, former CBS News White House correspondent & Longtime New Orleans Television News Anchor

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

VoiceOver Recording & Production … with a New Orleans twist