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

The Immortal Wayne Dyer & His Airlift Legacy

WayneDyerHandsClaspedTrue, but hard to believe, this summer marks five years since Dr. Wayne Dyer drew his last breath and proceeded to drop his body an ocean away in Hawaii.

I first “met” Wayne through a series of audio cassettes I’d ordered from Nightingale-Conant in Chicago.  The series was called “The Awakened Life”. The year was 1987.  And my life was never the same.

Wayne introduced me to eastern, metaphysical, transcendent thought, he opened my eyes – and spirit – as he challenged me to take chances with my life that I would have never dared in the past. I learned to jump off cliffs … and build wings on the way down.

Emerson & Thoreau came alive for me,  sacred scripture never rang so true, mystical sages of history spoke clearly in my ears,  as night-after-night I listened to Wayne unraveling and demystifying thought concepts that for so long were so foreign to me.

That’s all changed. Thanks, Wayne.

Through now-decades of his lectures, writings & teachings, he introduced me to Alan Watts, Deepak Chopra, Ram Dass, Carl Jung, and many others. Together, we’ve traveled the shores of Galilee with Jesus of Nazareth, meditated under the bodhi tree with the Buddha, and ridden camel-back with Muhammad across the sands of Mecca.

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My autographed copy of Wayne’s “The Secrets To Manifesting Your Destiny” program

We first met personally in March of 1997 at a Life Expo here in New Orleans. I confessed to him that he had very directly inspired me to ‘roll the dice’ and move my Airlift Productions business from my closet to a bonafide store-front with shingle out front on Iberville Street back in ’89.

He laughed and would take no credit whatsoever, saying that he never wanted to be anyone’s ‘guru’.  Further joking that if he ever took credit for anyone’s success that he’d also have to share the blame for their failures! 🙂

It was roughly a year later, while I was leading a  production team working for a NYC-based ad agency recording radio commercials in Toronto, Canada that we met again.

This time the visit was much more personal.

Through our days-long, sleep-deprived job in Toronto, I had quoted Wayne’s most incredible body of work extensively to the team I’d traveled with to Canada. At the end of the convention, we then rushed off to the airport to catch our flight back to New Orleans.

Dr.-Wayne-Dyer-RIP-at75_8-30-15Dog-tired, with my head down, waiting for our plane, a pair of sandaled feet walked past my field of vision. I looked up – and it was Wayne Dyer!

Together with his assistant Maya, he was enroute  from addressing a seminar in Amsterdam, headed back to his family in south Florida. As I shook my head in surprise and astonishment, he joked, “Well, Micheal, it would seem that you manifested ME!”

We proceeded to talk and laugh together for a half-hour!

About EVERYTHING:  Life, loves, disappointments, divorce, enlightenment, authorship, radio, recording, music, the Book of Tao, the Gita, days of future passed … he even was very complimentary about my voice.  Wow.

WayneDyerSeriousLookThen, called to our respective planes, we parted.  I will always treasure this remarkable day, and my not-so-coincidental conversation and time spent with this most remarkable spirit.

Dr. Dyer, quite frankly,  I am at a loss for words to describe the impact you’ve made on my life.  And, through my life and my Airlift Productions – and the lessons you’ve taught me – the impact I have then made on countless hundreds of other lives.

BuddhaCandles

It has been said that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  From the bottom of my heart and the height of my spirit, brother Wayne, thanks for appearing in my life… and sharing your candle with me.

 

Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from NOLA since 1984 (with a special assist-on-the-play from Dr. Wayne Dyer)

 

WayneDyerFacebookPicMemorial

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(L-R) Don Banks , Dawn Vachon, Bo “Boots” Walker, Airlift Mike on a lunch break in NOLA, pre-Covid-19, no “social distancing”

The Airlift Productions Studio itself is a mirror of Micheal; warm and inviting. I immediately feel at home when I’m there…never rushed, always cordial (great coffee) and I feel like MY project is the most important thing on his mind…total focus. It’s rare to find this kind of personal service. I never have any doubt that whatever I’m working on at Airlift will come out sounding great…always! If you want professional results; use a professional…Micheal Ziants at Airlift Productions IS that professional.” — BO WALKER, Former Production Director at New Orleans’ iHeart Media Stations

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

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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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Airlift Productions: A Life Lived In The Hurricane’s Eye

AirliftProductionsInTheHurricanesEyeThe National Weather Service defines the “Eye” as the region of mostly calm weather at the center of strong tropical cyclones.

Metaphorically, the ever-changing media & technology would be the tropical cyclones/hurricanes, and  Airlift Productions & I would be the ones who have for over thirty years resided… calmly, persistent & steady, in the hurricane’s eye.

Airlift Productions New Orleans Logo Re-boot 2012 by Ethan Anderson
The Airlift Productions logo, conceived & trademarked in 1984, and re-imagined for the 21st century

In 1984, the needs of my first full-time client – WGNO-TV/Tribune Broadcasting – gave birth to the Airlift Productions Studios. That very year Ronald Reagan sat in the Oval Office, the compact disc was brand new, and top-rated  CBS affiliates WWL-TV WWL radio here in New Orleans were owned by Loyola University (“World Wide Loyola”) and… the Catholic Church.

From the changing complexion of the White House to digital music distribution (and piracy), TV/radio deregulation and consolidation,  and from Loyola’s WWL ownership to Gannett, Tegna & Entercom … my, how the media and technological winds have blown!

Meanwhile, through all the changes and through all the years, Airlift Productions and I have resided calmly and ever-persistent in the Hurricane’s Eye.

A recent Search Engine request for just two words “Airlift Productions” yielded the most remarkable result – in the Images section was an internet-search-generated collage of a Life lived in the Hurricane’s Eye…

Bing Search Engine “Airlift Productions” Image Collage 2020

There was every studio I’d ever built – from the closet at Rock Creek Apartments to Iberville to Pomona.  There was Norman Robinson, Rich Lenz, Heath Allen, Deuce McAllister, Congressman Steve Scalise, Dr. Morgus, Rachel Wulff, Jamie Neumann, Sean O’Shea, Sister Thecla, even studio mascot The Shadeaux, the studio’s stained glass window and game room!

From radio commercials, TV voice-overs, music projects & audio books, to educational software, industrial training & safety videos,  and from cathode ray tubes to flat screens and broadcast to podcast – the Airlift Studios & I have shifted and tacked into the winds of change … while remaining calm & steady in the Hurricane’s Eye.

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence & Determination alone are omnipotent.” ~ Coolidge/Ziants

                   *** Micheal Ziants AUDIO BOOK Demo ***

AirliftProductionsMichealZiantsAndTheShadowOnTheJob
Airlift Productions proprietor Micheal Ziants putting in another day at the office ~ along with studio mascot ‘The Shadeaux’

And the winds continue to blow! My grandfather John was born before the radio, my father Charlie was born before the television, and I was born before the internet & digital.

What’s next?

Well, whatever it is, you can rest assured that Airlift Productions and I will be there … in the Hurricane’s Eye.

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L-R.JoeRenierMichealZiantsSeacorMarineShoot
Airlift’s Micheal Ziants (Right) with actor Joe Renier, On-Camera with TLW Productions for Seacor Marine … deep in the Gulf of Mexico

“We’ve worked with Mike for almost 15 years, both as voice over and on-camera talent in more than 50 films.  Not only is he a great guy and a super talent,  but he has the coolest recording studio in the South.” ~ TIM WESTON, President TLW Productions, NOLA 

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from NOLA since 1984

… we’ll leave the light on for you.

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

Airlift Mike Essence Fest Tweet July 2018

{ As New Orleans’ once thriving tourism & hospitality industry remains eerily quiet,  yet another victim of the worldwide Covid19 pandemic, I’m re-posting this blog from a summer that’s only two years ago… but seems like a lifetime ago, ya know? Someone cue-up Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive!” Thank you. }

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

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

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

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

The job?

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

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

What?

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

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

But make it, we did. And how!

Let the “Boys’ Trip” begin….

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

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

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

So, how did it all come out?

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

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

We gave them customized, unique ringtones like this…

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

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

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

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

And beats.

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

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

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

AirliftProductionsSteveScaliseMichealZiantsOctober2018
Congressman Steve Scalise records “Back In The Game” with Airlift Mike, October 2018 at Airlift Productions NOLA

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

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

Or was it?

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

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

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

Alone. Isolated. Pensive. Painful. Hopeful.

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

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

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

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

Not exactly light reading. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And howzabout a rematch on that ping-pong game?

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MichealZiantsSteveScaliseAirliftProductionsNOLA-Oct2018
Steve Scalise & Airlift Mike during a break from “Back In The Game”, Airlift Productions NOLA, October 2018

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

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

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

Airlift Mike, Sportsman’s Paradise Outcast, Rebel

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Veteran New Orleans Voice Talent Micheal Ziants with trusty sidekick & mascot The Shadeaux

Although I live in Louisiana, the Sportsman’s Paradise, I do not hunt and shoot animals, I do not own a gun … shucks, I don’t even play golf!

THIS is what I do.

Giving LIFE to the printed word, making simple text & fonts on an iPad or piece of paper BREATHE and create emotion in the mind of the listener is what I do.

And then, I further animate those living, breathing words with soundscapes – musical backdrops and sound effects which enhance and complement the human voice.

You know, the stuff that comes out of your radio speaker, or the flat screen TV in the background at the bar, or deep in your inner ear canal from earbuds, stuff like this….

    ** Micheal Ziants Long-form Narration Demo **

And with roots in the great state of Pennsylvania,  now firmly re-planted for over thirty years in the bayou state of Louisiana, it’s kind of strange to say but, here in 2020, I feel a stranger to both.

I don’t talk like your average N’awlins folks (“Wherey’at, dawlin’?”), I have a growing disdain for the yearly bacchanal called  the “Mardi Gras”, and yet I have no desire to return to the ice-packed, snow-covered northeast. 

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

A man without a country.

But I do have one thing most don’t – a vocation that is also my vacation.  And there’s solace in that.

On top of that, it’s a vocation that due to technological and digital advances affords me the opportunity to be heard by – and work for – anyone, anytime, and anywhere on planet Earth!

Wow.

   ** Airlift Mike talks for SHELL OIL **

While the VoiceOver arena is today an incredibly competitive and increasingly overcrowded field, it’s an honor to throw my headphones into the ring every day from America’s most fascinating city, New Orleans, warm-up the Airlift Productions microphones, and create compellingly convincing audio for clients near and far.

And the challenges and obstacles are far more daunting than shooting deer, flushing-out ducks, or spending weekends chasing a little white ball around a golf course.

 ** Airlift Mike taking a “shot” at Movie Trailer V-O – “Gladiator” **

Outcast? Rebel?  Well, sort of, I guess.

But in the meantime, life in Louisiana certainly has its upside, too – cargo shorts & flip-flops year-round, I haven’t bought snow tires in years, and I sure have become a Saints fan. Who Dat?!?

And, really, who cares if I talk kinda funny?

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“Micheal Ziants is a great voice talent who is generous with his time and energy. I have worked in TV for years, but needed the guidance of a professional to create my radio reel and found it with Ziants. He made me feel comfortable in studio and encouraged creativity, coaching me to a reel I hope will bring many job opportunities. “ – RACHEL WULFF,  former WWL/WDSU-TV Anchor & Reporter

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

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

{Editor’s Note: As our Coronacation blues & angst continue and we at Airlift continue to process the events of the day – which change every day – I’m side-stepping all the issues of politics & fear and re-posting this tribute to Mac…}

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Dr. John Autograph to Airlift Mike on old Airlift Iberville Street Notepad

Hired by Quincy Jones’ staff and his daughter Jolie to record Mac’s VoiceOver tracks for their Take It Back Foundation, I first met the Nite Tripper in the Airlift Productions Iberville days during NOLA’s raucous early 1990s.

He walked in without pomp or circumstance, no entourage, no fanfare, no feathers, solo… but just as cool as the other side of the pillow.

Our job wasn’t anything to do with music, it was all about VoiceOver – he’d been cast as the Yak in Quincy’s animated PSA to promote recycling efforts and it was destined for use in movie theaters, television & MTV across America that summer.

We phone-patched to Los Angeles and together with Stevie Wonder, Ozzy Osbourne, B.B. King, Natalie Cole, Pat Benatar, Charlie Daniels, Barry White… and Bugs Bunny…

With a hip-hop beat straight outta “In Living Color” – Fox’s big hit at the time – it all showed-up in movie theaters like this…

Dr. John’s 1st visit to Airlift Productions – as “the Yak”

Some recording session, I’ll tell you that.

When Mac, not even asking if he could smoke, pulled out a Cheroot and lit it up, we rushed an ash tray into the booth without giving it a second thought. Sort of.

And when he asked if he could “use the facilities”, I took him up in the elevator to the Iberville Street living quarters, to the bathroom, where he encountered my then-one-year-old son Benjamin.

Imagine, if you can, Dr. John setting his walking stick aside, so he could pick up your child, hold him… and whisper sweet voodoo nothings in his ear!

Our second session, the following year, was all about VoiceOver for an awards presentation, wherein Mac was hired to record the introduction to accompany this big, splashy video – all about New Orleans legendary Red Light District!

Dr. John “Special Events Magazine” Awards Show Intro – 1993

Our paths – and stars – would continue to cross through the next couple decades, most notably at New Orleans’ Big Easy Entertainment Awards Shows.

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Dr. John & Airlift Mike, Big Easy Awards Show New Orleans 1995

I was honored to act as ‘Live Announcer’ for the show for ten consecutive years and Mac, being the one and only Dr. John, would be along many years to receive an award, or just to perform.

Just. As if.

My favorite memory was the year his mother flew in from NYC for the show, so Mac tracks me down and tells me that he wants me to meet his mama… and together we made the trek across the Fairmont ballroom so I could give my regards to his Dorothy.

Indeed, while Mac’s bouts with smack/heroin through the years are the stuff of legend, he had successfully navigated those choppy waters and was ‘clean’ the entire time I ever was fortunate enough to talk and record with him.

Through the years – the recording sessions & Big Easy Awards – we talked and laughed of many things… his love for New Orleans, his love of music, the ‘Big Picture’… existential things like living a life with “one foot in this world… and the other… in the other”!

Much in the way that Time Magazine caught his candor here…

Dr. John, with some pretty amazing answers… and questions.

The last time we ever spoke to each other?

It was at the funeral for Cosimo Matassa, New Orleans’ legendary, seminal recording engineer and producer.

Along with a Who’s-Who of New Orleans music royalty – Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Quint Davis, Deacon John Moore, Benny Grunch – we’d all gathered to say goodbye to Cos, the big mac-daddy that started it all down on Rampart all those years ago.

Dr. John had flown into NOLA from NYC to say his final farewell to Cosimo down at Lake Lawn.

Now, here in 2019… it’s his turn.

Yeah, we all may very well be ‘whistling past the graveyard’ but, damn – nobody whistled that tune better than Dr. John!

And just like ‘dat, mellifluous, mesmerizing, mystical Mac moves on… from New Orleans & ‘da World.

Sort of.

I mean, there IS the matter of all that fantastic music he left us.

Deepest thanks for all that hoodoo voodoo that you did so well, bud.

Nighty-night, Nite Tripper.

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Airlift Productions – we’ll leave the mics hot… and the light on for you.

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

The ART Of VoiceOver Demo Production

SteveBlazeAndMichealZiantsRecordVoiceOversAtAirliftProductionsNewOrleans

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

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

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

And today in 2020 the Voice Demo covers the gamut – from commercial to animation, video games to the medical field, and from industrial narration to audio books.

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Exhibit A – JOHN DENNEY.

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

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

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

                               ** JOHN DENNEY VOICEOVER DEMO **

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Rachel Wulff records her VoiceOver Demo at Airlift Productions NOLA

Enter Exhibit B – RACHEL WULFF.

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

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

She does now.

                       ** RACHEL WULFF VOICEOVER DEMO **

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

Enter Exhibit C – MARY ROSE NEUMEYER.

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

After a brief pre-production meeting, she pulled together some copy, I then coached her through all the reads and edited her demo. 

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

                 ** MARY ROSE NEUMEYER VOICEOVER DEMO **

Finally, an entry from yours truly.

Enter Exhibit D.

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

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

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

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

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

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

                    ** MICHEAL ZIANTS AudioBook DEMO **

Commercial, AudioBooks, Industrial, Animation, Video Games, the Voice Demo in 2020 sure does cover a lot of ground.

Er, ah… make that “air”.

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

Or, is it a science?

OK, how about BOTH?

Well, whatever you want to call it…

Call on Airlift Mike and Airlift Productions to book yours.

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“For voice over actors, the demo serves as a calling card and is unquestionably the most important tool in the pursuit of voice over work. Mike Ziants and Airlift PROductions produced my first VO demo and within weeks I landed my first job in the industry. Airlift’s state-of-the-art recording studio combined with Mike’s wisdom and expertise provided me with an excellent demo as well as the confidence needed to achieve success.” ~ JOHN DENNEY, Founder/Lead Singer of the notorious LA-based punk band The Weirdos … and relatively new VoiceOver Artist

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

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

Taylor Swift “Shakes Off” Airlift Productions

Taylor Swift, tagged to headline Jefferson Parish's Family Gras 2008
Taylor Swift, tagged to headline Jefferson Parish’s Family Gras 2008

** With Mardi Gras 2020 excitement in the air and New Orleans in frenzy mode – I’m re-posting this blog, originally published in June of 2015 **

Long before her recent shaking-up of the “Apple Cart’s” new music streaming service, Country/Pop-Tart Taylor Swift was headed to play New Orleans – and yours truly, Airlift Mike, was tagged to help promote and give voice to the show.

Little did any of us realize when then-19 year old Taylor was selected to appear at Family Gras 2008 – just down Veterans Boulevard from the Airlift Productions Studios – that she was destined  to explode and become one of the world’s hottest selling musical artists!

Family Gras was brand new – and so was Taylor Swift’s career.

Contracted by NOLA public relations ace Greg Buisson and the Jefferson Parish Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, I was tasked with voicing and producing the :60 audio track (video edited by Joseph Schneider) which was then to play all over New Orleans television to promote the affair.

** An uncharacteristically UP-Tempo Micheal Ziants, generating excitement for Taylor Swift’s Family Gras 2008 Appearance **

2008FamilyGrasLineupSo, with but one big hit in her hip pocket (“Our Song”), Taylor got in the bus with mom & dad, Andrea & Scott, and drove down to NOLA from Nashville for the show on that ill-fated late January.

She was slated to appear along with Blake Shelton, Kansas, Billy Ray Cyrus, The Bangles and a host of class N’awlins acts  – all in between Mardi Gras parades on the neutral ground of Veterans Boulevard here in Metairie for Family Gras 2008.

But Mother Nature had other ideas.

As Fate and the rain gods would have it, the skies over NOLA opened up that fate-filled Friday afternoon and it rained.  And it rained.  And it rained!

Poor Taylor’s only appearance that afternoon was on the 6:00 News/Blues.  Under an umbrella.  In a pouring rainstorm.  As she tendered her regrets to a dismayed New Orleans crowd about her canceled show.

swift14f-1-webReally.  Ask her about this one sometime, should you get a chance.

And little did any of us realize that day that this little PA native, Nashville transplant, Taylor Alison Swift’s career was about to explode – into the stratosphere!

Oh wait, of course. Her mama did.

Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from New Orleans since 1984

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L-R, Heath Allen, Theresa Andersson, Micheal Ziants, Rich Lenz – during a break from the original HEALING HOUSE sessions, Airlift Productions 2004

“Great recording studios share something in common with great concert venues. They both have a…what is it? An aura, a vibe, a karma, an ambiance? Whatever you call it, it’s as real as any speaker on the wall or slider on a console. You can’t see it, but, you can absolutely FEEL it. 

Airlift Productions has IT – thanks to the man behind the board (and in your ear). Micheal Ziants has a knack for gently pulling your best work out of you – and then improving upon it in the final mix. The finished product always leaves you thrilled, satisfied and amazed that you really had it in you! The best part- he gives you all the credit and you only realize later what great hands your material was in. 

Do yourself a favor- give Airlift a try. You’ll love the results and every moment you spent producing them.”

~ RICH LENZ , former WDSU-TV Sports Director/Anchor 

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VoiceOver Recording & Production … with a New Orleans twist