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!

MichealZiantsAsRinglingBrosClownHersheyPa1978
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.

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

DrJohnAutographToAirliftMike
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.

MichealZiantsDrJohnBigEasyAwarcsNOLA
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