Category Archives: The Radio Days/Daze

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.

MichealZiantsAsMikeMcCannQ-93Ad-1984
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

WIFI-92, The City of Brotherly Love & John St. John: The Rear View Mirror

A 1980s era WIFI-92 Bumper Sticker & T-Shirt Design.
A 1980s era WIFI-92 Bumper Sticker & T-Shirt Design.

In 1982, Philadelphia moved to a different beat in a different world. And I was fortunate and blessed to make radio magic there, shoulder-to-shoulder, with the legendary late Don Cannon, radio wizard Tom Bigby, the wickedly talented Andre Gardner, and the sassy, smokey Liz Kiley.

Yes, in those prehistoric days before the internet, the web, and a digitally-connected world, RADIO was the thing. No iPads, iPods, iPhones… if you wanted to hear your favorite song, you turned on a radio!

In 1982, Ronald Reagan sat in the Oval Office, ‘E.T” was huge at the box office, and my “office” was the morning drive chair 5:30 – 9:00 on WIFI-92!

One of my fave Rejection Letters during the post-WLAC 1981 Radio Job Hunt ~ just keep the Faith, Mike
One of my fave Rejection Letters during the post-WLAC 1981 Radio Job Hunt ~ just keep the Faith, Mike

Picked up on waivers from Nashville, out of work for nearly half a year due to Billboard Magazine’s fall ‘housecleaning’ at WLAC, I came to the attention of big Tom Bigby. He liked what he’d heard on an aircheck, called, we met during a layover at the Nashville airport – and he hired me.

It’s  really hard to find the words to describe the thrill of the morning call to the starting gate.  (Despite some mornings being the ‘snow plow’) I mean, what a challenge to be the first voice a person heard in the morning – in the bathroom, the kitchen, by the bed, under the car dashboard in the commute – in Phila-freakin’-del-phia!

Rockin’ the Cradle of Liberty ~ WIFI, Philadelphia.

Morning Drive Radio was exciting, pulse-pounding and very rewarding on many levels. But what I remember most about the Philly days/daze is Satur-days!

Airlift Mike (Ziants) aka John Saint John in the WIFI Production Studios 1982 (thanks to brother Andre Gardner for the pic)
Airlift Mike (Ziants) aka John Saint John in the WIFI Production Studios 1982 (thanks to brother Andre Gardner for the pic)

Every Saturday, from 10 am to 3 pm – the most listened-to weekend day part – I cranked up TURNTABLES, brought in the most amazing collection of VINYL and held court with “From Motown to the Philly Sound”!

It was my professorial, Dick Clark-ish, honky, white boy approach to the most sizzlin’, cookin’, excitin’, sex-citin’ hit music of the 20th century.

Temptations. Four Tops. Supremes. Junior Walker. Marvin Gaye. Martha & her Vandellas. Spinners. Harold Melvin & his Blue Notes. Barry White. Michael Jackson… all served-up with background, historical facts, dates, anecdotes – and fun!

** John Saint John Entertains Philadelphia on WIFI-92 ~ From Motown to the Philly Sound in 1982 **

“Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end” … but they did.

mqdefaultIn early ’83, the Bala Cynwyd-General-Cinema corporate crew decided to hire a consultant out of Los Angeles (only the name has been changed/dropped to protect the guilty), go ‘Rock of the ’80s’, and fire that morning John Saint John jock because he’s way ‘too adult and mature sounding for the new format’!? Really? 

But you know, when you’ve found a way to take all the shit folks throw at you … and then throw it over your shoulder to use as fertilizer for tomorrow’s crops, you roll with it.

In the ashes of every defeat lie the seeds to a greater or equivalent benefit.  And I am a graduate – with honors – from the University of Adversity.

Besides, New Orleans …. and my destiny …. and Airlift Productions were calling.

Pardon me while I pick up the phone.

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“I had the extreme pleasure of working with Mike of Airlift Productions for a project in 2016. He was professional, courteous and most importantly, fun to work with. Mike is patient and very thorough with his recording, making sure that what you want is done before he powers down the gear for the day. 10/10, I would work with him again.”– JARED GARCIA, Sr. Recording Engineer for Blackstone Audio and Downpour.com

 

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from NOLA 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 create my own future.  Enter the Airlift dream.

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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 it’s entire staff, including yours truly.

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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 from”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 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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From New Castle … to New Orleans, What a Trip!

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Airlift Productions Proprietor Micheal Ziants as a ‘babe in the woods’ New Castle, PA. What, no headphones?
From New Castle (PA) to New Orleans (LA) … to quote the California sage Jerry Garcia, “What a long strange trip it’s been!”
 
Born in New Castle (just north of Pittsburgh) to Charlie & Phyllis, the middle child of five kids, by the time I was five, we’d already relocated all the way to Florida – where we moved two additional times in three years … before moving back north to Youngstown, Ohio.
 
So, let me see, I’m all of nine years old and I’ve already had five different mailing addresses in three different states in the union.  No, pop wasn’t running from the law, just an upwardly mobile and in-demand chemical/mechanical engineer.
My first jobs were newspaper boy, altar boy, and grocery bagging and delivery boy.  Boy, that’s a lot of ‘boys’.  And great training at a young age in dependability and responsibility for manhood, I might add.
Even as a young dude (boy) through all these very same years, the roots of the recording studio and voiceover career were planted. I took up acting in civic children’s theater, studied ventriloquism (even built my own dummy), taught myself to play the guitar (had my own band in high school) … and fell in love with radio & communications.
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Micheal Ziants High School Grad Pic 1970 Northwestern High, Beaver Falls, PA
Upon graduating high school, with dreams of heading to the military academy at West Point, I spent a year working hard as a land surveyor during the day and attending Penn State by night. When the academy dreams fell apart, I’ve got to admit – it was radio, communications and broadcasting that captured my heart.
 
Big time!
So, after carrying a 4.0 in English, Speech, Philosophy and (oh, my) Calculus at Penn State, I decided to drop out, follow my heart and launch a career in radio. Now the fun begins.
From Columbus to Youngstown, Ohio … Harrisburg, PA to Saint Louis, MONashville, TN to Philadelphia, PA … all before landing in the land of sugarcane and Pontchartrain – New Orleans!
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Airlift Proprietor Micheal Ziants as alter-ego John Saint John, in the production room at WLAC, Nashville, 1980
Yes, I’ve been hired – and fired – from some of the finest radio stations in America!  And worked for some of the country’s hallmark names and companies … the Joseph Pulitzer family-KSD Radio in St. Louis, Billboard Magazine-WLAC, Nashville, and General Cinema Corporation-WIFI, Philadelphia.
When I arrived in New Orleans at Q-93, the station was then owned by Insilco, a Fortune 500 outfit with silver mines all over planet earth! 
But I just grew tired and weary of the fragile existence that radio offered and/or threatened, along with the toll on my private and personal life.
You want to know something?  Women will only take to that packing and unpacking, up-and-down-the-radio-dial life for just so long … before they say ‘so long’.
 
Necessity being the mother of invention, I began the Airlift Productions thing – recording and producing ‘voice-overs for export’ – long before it became fashionable.  I built my first recording studio in 1984, ‘burned the ships’ (as the expression goes) and never looked back.
OriginalAirliftProductions1985
The Original Airlift Productions – before digital, the internet & mp3s – in the closet of my one-bedroom apartment – 1985
Airlift Productions was my opportunity to combine all my loves – acting, music, communications, production and radio – into my own business. Oh sure, I could still run the bus off the road, but at least from now onward … I was the one at the wheel.  
 
1984 was the age of reel-to-reel magnetic recording tape, grease pencils and splicing blocks, cassettes and Fed Ex next-day deliveries. The internet and world wide web, mp3 email attachments, and digital non-destructive edits weren’t even dreams yet in a tech head’s head!
Fast-forward now to 2020… and the kid has stayed in the picture.  I still love to paint those mental pictures, color the air with bright pastels and deep earth-toned hues … motivate with sound!
QuvenzhaneWallisRecordsAtAirliftProductionsWithMichealZiants
Micheal Ziants and the new “Annie” Quvenzhane Wallis, recording for Chrysler and sharing a few laughs at Airlift Productions
And what a thrill and honor to do it all from the world’s most unique city and America’s most fascinating destination.  If you’ve been to New Orleans you know whereof I speak … and if you haven’t, well, you’ll just have to take my word for it.
 
Catch-up with us when you can at Airlift Productions Recording Studio here in New Orleans.  We’ll leave the mics hot for you!
AirliftProductionsRecordingStudioNewOrleans
Airlift Productions, New Orleans

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DaleAnthonySmith“It has been my pleasure to collaborate with Mike at Airlift on a variety of projects from sound effects for museum films, to Narration for corporate and commercial work, to high end deeply layered radio spots.
He works out of his own custom designed studio, so he has been able to offer a flexibility to accommodate erratic schedules.
In every case, he has maintained the highest standards of production that equal anything produced in New York or LA. He is dedicated, tireless, dependable and truly enjoys his work to the point of making the process actually fun. I would not hesitate to recommend his services to my colleagues or anyone seeking a totally professional sound track.” ~ DALE ANTHONY SMITH,  Designer/Producer at Multi-Media Corp,  New Orleans

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You May Say I’m A Dreamer …

AirliftProductionsImaginesWithJohnLennon
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.”

MichealZiantsAirliftProductionsAtAge20WNIO.YoungstownOhio
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

Have You Heard About the Big One That Got Away?

L-R.GatorAndMikeMcCannQ-93in1989AirliftProductionsNOLA
“Gator” (Wakeman Linscomb) & Airlift Productions Proprietor “Mike McCann”, the Q-93 Wake-Up Krewe, entertaining N’awlins in 1989, and laying-down tracks at Airlift Productions on Iberville

It happened again last night. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L-R.MikeMcCannSinbadGatorOnAirAtQ-93RadioFall1989AirliftProductionsNOLA
(L-R) Micheal Ziants (Mike McCann), Comedian/Actor Sinbad, Gator on-air at Q-93 New Orleans in the Fall of 1989

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from New Orleans since 1984

Confucius + John Saint John = Airlift Productions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MichealZiantsAkaJohnStJohnWKBO-1976

Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy & Magic from NOLA since 1984

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

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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. 

L-R.GatorAndMikeMcCannQ-93in1989AirliftProductionsNOLA
“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.

AirliftProductionsNewOrleans1992StudioPromoPic
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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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