Category Archives: They Might Be Ziants

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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Airlift Mike Runs Off To Join The Circus & The Greatest Show On Earth

Airlift Mike (as John Saint John) personal certificate proclaiming him an "Elephant Equestrian Extraordinaire" in the Greatest Show on Earth
Airlift Mike (as John Saint John) personal certificate proclaiming him an “Elephant Equestrian Extraordinaire” in the Greatest Show on Earth

While here in 2019 Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus has given way to changing times, dwindling ticket sales & digital distractions, as well as a growing respect for the dignity of all animals – and taken down the tent poles for the FINAL time …

Allow me to sidestep the front-page politics and animal rights issues for some rather remarkable personal reflection.

“Mr. Peabody, set the Way-back machine for 1978!”

It was May that year, shortly before my WKBO/Harrisburg exit for St. Louis that yours truly – as John Saint John – felt the calling.

“The Smell of the Greasepaint and the Roar of the Crowd!” OMG!

As afternoon drive air personality for five years at WKBO, I was invited by the PR Team at Ringling Brothers to ‘run off to join the circus’ to help promote the circus coming to town.

Gunther Gebel-Williams showing-off! Hey, it's his JOB.
Gunther Gebel-Williams showing-off! Hey, it’s his JOB.

That May day in 1978 I showed up in Hershey, PA to help out with the circus parade, as all the animals made their way from the nearest train tracks on to the Hershey Park Arena for the show.

Gunther Gebel-Williams himself (long-famous at this point for his appearances with Johnny Carson & Ed Sullivan), the heroic, blonde, Germanic ‘Caesar of the Sawdust’ & Head Animal Trainer shouted to me, “John, let me help you UP”

John Saint John high atop the largest elephant in the Greatest Show on Earth
John Saint John high atop the largest elephant in the Greatest Show on Earth

He then cupped his hands at knee-height, I stepped in, and he proceeded to catapult me to the top of the largest African bull elephant in the show for my circus parade ride to the arena.

Wow-ee-wow! There I was riding this humongous animal bareback, no saddle – his skin felt like corrugated cardboard – and there I was, steering him as I held him BY THE EARS!

As if this experience wasn’t already enough, after reaching the arena I was escorted past the maze of entertainers from all over the world, listening to a symphony of foreign tongues from all around the earth… to a makeup trailer.

Lou Jacobs, Dean of Clowns for over 60 years with Ringling Brothers
Lou Jacobs, Dean of Clowns for over 60 years with Ringling Brothers

Inside this trailer I was introduced to Lou Jacobs. Now at this point Lou was the Dean of Clowns. Imagine, he performed with Ringling Brothers for over 60 years, and is the guy credited with inventing the “Clown Car”.

So, Lou proceeds to personally make me up for the show… red-nosed, white-faced, arched eyebrows, a shockingly-orange wig and some crazy duds, so I can join them IN PERFORMANCE!

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Micheal Ziants all ‘tricked-out’ as a Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey ‘Clown for a Day’, Hershey Park Arena, May 1978

Now I’m IN the “Clown Car” – a wild customized VW Beetle with all the seats taken out and the windows painted so no one could see in, and they pile a dozen of us into this one little car.

We tear into the arena on-cue and are stopped to a screeching halt on the sawdust by a fellow clown cop who then proceeds to knock us all out as we exit the car!

All to the shrieks and howls of the delighted packed crowd.

What seemed so remarkable at this moment to me was that this was the first time I’d ever made people laugh – WITHOUT EVEN OPENING MY MOUTH!

MichealZiantsRinglingBrosCircusParadeHersheyPaMay1978Heading back to my humble apartment later that May night I couldn’t help but feel a bit small, you know?

Backstage at the circus I listened to every voice and tongue you can imagine, from entertainers who’d traveled from all over the planet to Hershey, PA – the high wire act was from Rio de Janeiro, Gunther & Lou were from Germany, the dog act crowd was Parisian, etc. – and I was just this over-hyped, fast-talking, ego-filled American disc jockey, born just north of Pittsburgh in New Castle.

But I certainly learned a lot about life that day. About community. About teamwork. And a love & appreciation for the most majestic creature on the face of the earth – the elephant.

Oh, and one other thing.

LIFE really IS a Circus!

And we’re not talking metaphor here.

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mike church“When I need BIG ‘I-know-that-guy’s-voice!’ sound for any production I am working on, the first call I make is to Airlift Mike.  Micheal’s penetrating vocals and second-to-none production quality give my movie & audio feature projects the instant respectability they need.   If you want to sound like a pro, meaning no one gives a second thought to your audio because it is so well executed, you want to call Airlift!” ~
MIKE CHURCH, Former World-Famous Sirius/XM Talk Show Host, Founding Father Film Maker, Writer & Producer of ‘The Spirit of ’76’ and ‘The Road to Independence’ & Creator of the Veritas Radio Network’s Crusade Channel

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

Happy Father’s Day Weekend MMXV !

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Charlie Ziants – in a pic he sent home from Europe to his sweetie Phyllis – trying to look all macho and all that. I’d say, for only 21, he pulled it off.

 

So, what does a baby computer call its Father?!?  Ri-i-i-ght.  He calls it ‘Data’!

 You know, a lot of truth is captured in this cutesy, pun-ny Father’s Day joke for the 21st century. 
 
Everything that you – the reader of these very words – and I are … is the end result of that one split second of conception, when that sperm hit that egg, the DNA, the ‘data’ in your ‘Da-Da’!
 
Your eye color, the cut of your chin, your height, your default weight, your ability to process a thought, your IQ, your eye-to-hand coordination when you hit or throw a ball – is all predestined and pre-configured in a rather remarkable instant of the sharing of the ‘baby batter’.
 
Oh sure, mom had a hand in it, so to speak, but after all, this is Father’s Day weekend 2015, so let’s go there.
Charlie & Phyllis Ziants - Snowbirds awol from Ohio - Gulfport, MS, 1992
Charlie & Phyllis Ziants – Snowbirds awol from Ohio – Gulfport, MS, 1992

 Meet mine.  Charlie Ziants was sure a character. ‘Good time Charlie’ to the gang around the golf course or bowling alley, ‘Mr. Ziants’ to many around the power plant, ‘Chuck’ to his wife Phyllis of 40+ years  … and ‘Sir’ or ‘Pop’ to my brothers and me.
 
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Charlie Ziants quietly celebrating a rather good day on the golf course with his mates, Beaver Falls, PA, 1971

Courageous (a WW II & Korea Vet); Brilliant (Ohio State Grad & accomplished engineer); Trustworthy (raised five kids); Resilient (never without a job or paycheck); Loving (a pat on the head or kick in the pants when needed); Gregarious & Fun (always there with a joke, laugh & cold drink ); Supportive (a treasure trove of sage advice & counsel); Athletic (a true Bowling & Golf Ace); Musical (you should’ve heard him on piano or accordion)… and with a Voice and a Laugh that could  really grab attention!

Rumi, the Persian mystic & poet once wrote, “When you are dead, seek for your final resting place … not in the dirt … but in the hearts of men.” Charlie     even pulled this feat off too.
 
Pop, God Bless you, sir!  Thank you for your service, both on foreign shores in the U.S. Army … and on these shores raising the tribe of Ziants.
 
And thank you – especially – for the Da-Da data!

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My Pop Charles Edwin Ziants at his favorite place, the beach, enjoying his last year, 1995
                               Charles Edwin Ziants ~ 1925 – 1996