Category Archives: The Radio Days/Daze

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

Mike Pintek, Airlift Mike, WKBO, KDKA & The Keystone State

Mike Pintek at WKBO, cranking-out a news story – on a typewriter! (remember those?)

I first met Mike Pintek in 1975 at a quaint 1,000 watt radio station in a far off land known as Pennsylvania.

It was WKBO radio in Harrisburg, PA  and, as fellow same-year (1952) baby-boomers, we were both relatively new to the radio game, 24 years old, and, as the tacky, crude expression goes, “young, dumb, and full of ____!”

And I say ‘far off land’ because, as a ‘damn Yankee’, I’ve called New Orleans home for 35 years now and seldom return to the rolling hills of Pennsylvania and the land of my birth.

Yeah, that’s Pintek seated on the car hood, yours truly is the ‘hood’ lower left, with the rest of the posse

Pintek served as the afternoon news dude for John Saint John (he said, using the 3rd person) every afternoon as, daily 2-6 pm, we entertained our “fighting troops in the commuter combat zones” of the state capital.

Night times were different stories.

As 24 year old guys, away from home, single, hormonal, it was bars, night clubs, and the like – and, of course, Monday Night Football watching with the rest of the boyz, especially when the Steelers were on.

** John Saint John & Mike Pintek on WKBO Harrisburg in 1976 **

Give a listen to afternoon drive in the Bicentennial year of 1976! Just don’t judge us too harshly.  Shucks, we were only 24 and still wet behind the headphones.

So, where am I going with all this?

Well, last week up in PA brother Mike decided to drop his body and move to “the other side”  – dead at 65 from pancreatic cancer complications.

And I just came here to unpack a few things.

Through many of my now-over-30 years of self employment with Airlift Productions, Mike stuck to his radio guns and went on to entertain Pittsburgh, PA  with a highly-rated talk show at legendary 50,000 watt behemoth KDKA for 30 years!

Earlier, in ’79, Mike even went on to break one of America’s biggest stories of the 20th century – the nearly catastrophic core meltdown at Three Mile Island! (wait, let’s make that a triple exclamation mark !!!)

Mike Pintek seriously serious about bein’ serious OnAir at KDKA Pittsburgh

What a testament to his awesome powers of communication, longevity, innate talents, and skill. Mike Pintek was born to the radio.

Yet, here in 2018, many  folks just don’t get it.

Radio, just like wartime, bonds its warriors – like crazy glue.

And as Garth Brooks once opined, those who live ‘outside the fire’ will never fully understand those living within… and consumed by it.

Mike and I were crazy glue bonded warriors living inside the fire, living lives never fully understood by the overwhelming majority who never felt the pressure, the joys, the daily combat of on-mic performance.

 

** My YouTube tribute to my Keystone State Media Titans **

And my warrior buds continue to fall by the wayside, gone, but not forgotten….

Joe Wambach, Fred Honsberger, Marvin ‘Goose’ Goslin, ‘Big Jim’ Roberts, Gary Magill, Jeff Kauffman, Charlie Adams, Rick ‘Chris’ Andree, J. Al Dame – every single name here, fellow WKBO warriors in the broadcast trenches with Mike & I, now … gone.

Now, like so many of our comrades, Mike Pintek has fought his last fight.

KDKA’s Mike Pintek, putting in “another day at the office”

But you wanna know something?

Everyone has to die. But not everyone truly lives!

While way too many folks today live half-realized lives, commuting to jobs they really don’t like, at hours they don’t care to work, and working for people they don’t respect – Mike and I, like crazy glue bonded warriors, never spent even a day of our lives like that.

Ever.

Mike’s final Twitter Profile Pic – how catty, huh?

Besides, like those righteous dudes Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield once gave voice to – “If you believe in forever, then life is just a one-night stand; if there’s a rock ‘n roll heaven, then they’ve gotta have a hell of a band!”

Oh, and one hell of a news room.

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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. Thirty-eight 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 seat 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!

15WLAC-Logo

~ 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!

MichealZiantsAKA-JohnSaintJohnWLAC-Nashville1980
~ 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 ~

Without question, the most fun I’ve ever had with my clothes on!

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, the 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 it’s entire air staff- “Trick or Treat”!! In favor of new owners… and a new all News/Talk format.

WLAC-RhythmOfNashvilleSingl

As I look back now, across all these thirty-eight 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 from New Orleans since 1984

 

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 2018 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 said 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

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.

AirliftProductionsRecordingStudioNewOrleans2014PromoPic
Airlift Productions Recording Studio, New Orleans, 2018 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.

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 from”the man” and putting them to work for myself! I simply parlayed the many skills garnered 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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steve scaffidi“Mike has a great voice and he’s a great guy! We’ve produced many projects together and he’s always at the top of his game. I love working with him.”  ~  Steve Scaffidi, Founder & Managing Partner at Ghost Rider Pictures, NOLA

 

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

MichealZiantsBabyPic1952NewCastlePA
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.
MIchealZiantsHighSchoolGradPic1970
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!
MichealZiantsAkaJohnStJohnWLACNashville1980
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/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 2018… 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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Confucius + John Saint John = Airlift Productions

NewOrleansVoiceTalentMichealZiantsOnAirWKBOin1976
“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.

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 2018 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!

MichealZiantsAkaJohnStJohnWKBOsurvey1973
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!

MichealZiantsAkaJohnStJohnWithJoeyTravoltaWKBO1977
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

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 2017 the same frequency is under Entercom rule and plays classic rock under the Bayou 95.7 banner. 

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“Mike McCann” (seated) in the Airlift Productions Iberville studios, along with ‘the Gator’, circa 1990

But 27 years ago it was a different game in a different town.

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

But that’s another story all together.

Here’s mine.

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

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

So, while continuing to operate Airlift Productions with all my freelance jobs (WGNO-TV, Ronnie Lamarque, The Esplanade Mall, WNOL-TV), 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 2017 is a super salesman for the Entercom krewe, which today operates this frequency 95.7/Bayou; and Terrell Robinson, featured here, continues 27 years later, still plying his trade as traffic reporter in New Orleans.

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

Here in 2017, 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 Mixes It Up With Todd Rundgren

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WKBO Radio in Harrisburg, PA’s ‘3-Ring Circus’ 1974 promotion featured Todd Rundgren (left) and Harry Chapin, for a “meet & greet” day at the Harrisburg East Mall

Alrighty then, avid blog readers, let’s lace-up the Nikes for yet another jog down memory lane … now forty-three years in the rear view mirror, the year is 1974, in a far-off land known as Pennsylvania.

My previous blog on the late Harry Chapin only tangentially mentioned the very-much-still-with-us ‘Wizard & True Star’ Todd Rundgren, so let’s elaborate on Todd and pick it up there….

As WKBO afternoon air personality John Saint John, I acted as host that fateful day for a Warner Brothers-Elektra-Atlantic label ‘meet & greet’ party we called the ‘3-Ring Circus’ as all of the state capital it seemed showed-up at the Harrisburg East Mall to welcome Todd Rundgren, Harry Chapin, and the group Cactus!

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WKBO Music Survey detailing the WEA 3-Ring Circus … along with Airlift Productions Micheal Ziants as that John Saint John guy – what a hood, huh?

While it’s not totally visible in the above picture of Todd & Harry, Todd Rundgren was sporting quite the ‘do that day – he had his hair dyed … in four different colors & shades!  Four separate quadrants – black, blonde, orange … and green! Really.

But all the snickers, jokes, and good-natured ribbing – to say nothing of jealousies – that day were reserved for Todd’s love life, as Harry and the Cactus gang just would not leave him alone about his babe  Bebe Buell!  Do yourself a favor and ‘google’ this girl.

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The WKBO staff pic – along with Rockin’ Rick Shockley (lower left), Harry Chapin (lower right), together with son Josh and Airlift Proprietor Micheal Ziants as John St. John; plus a somewhat bemused Todd Rundgren

At this point in time, Todd was hot ‘n heavy with the ultimate groupie of all rock history!  Bebe was not only Hugh Hefner’s pick for the November Playboy mag playmate that year, she also went on to the bed of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, and is, in fact, the mother of Hollywood actress Liv Tyler!  I kid you not.

Broke poor Todd’s heart is what she did.

But in 1974 – as the whole gang that day teased him endlessly about and would not leave him alone about – Bebe was all Todd’s.

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(L-R) Todd Rundgren, Bebe Buell, Alice Cooper … mixing it up over a Bud backstage back in the day

But, hey, women may come, and women may go … so, what else is new?  The remarkable thing about Todd Rundgren was and IS his blazing and amazing talents – on both sides of the glass.

Todd would write every song,  play every instrument, sing every vocal track, produce the entire album top to bottom – and it was ALL HIM!  He was the talent, the producer & the engineer.  Damn!

Every time you hear “Hello, it’s Me”, “I Saw the Light”, or “We Got to Get You a Woman” on classic rock radio, or sing along to  the anthem “Bang the Drum All Day” at a sporting event – that’s Todd!

As producer and engineer, Todd also steered the careers of Meatloaf, Grand Funk Railroad, Badfinger & countless others … while Saturday mornings, his contributions to Paul Reuben’s ‘Pee Wee’s Playhouse’ are legendary.  To detail all his input and impact on 20th century music would make this blog impossibly long.

The cutesy story of that amazing day in Harrisburg with Todd just has to be this one he gave me – the one about school desks at Upper Darby High School in Philadelphia still today carrying his rather unique and imaginative doodles and carvings.

As that little Pennsylvania boy just daydreamed his life away… as if!

 

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Todd’s Autograph to Airlift Productions’ Micheal Ziants (as that John Saint John dude) – across his hand, on the back of his “Something/Anything?” LP (remember those?)

Today, happily married to Michele with Upper Darby High School and Pennsylvania well in his rear view mirror, and living large on the island of Hawaii, Todd continues to mystify and amaze his planet-wide army of fans with tunes that stand the test of time.

“Aloha, it’s me!”

 

 Follow Airlift Mike and his latest Ad-Ventures & Misadventures on Twitter here – Airlift Productions & Airlift Mike on Twitter

Airlift PROductions Recording Studio ~ Making New Memories Every Day from NEW Orleans …. 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, VoiceOver Artist & Aussie Voice for Shell Oil

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