Tag Archives: Airlift Productions

Airlift Mike And My Time With “The Saints”

While I daily walk with ‘the saints’ – ya know,  guys like Paul/Saul of Tarsus, Francis (of Assisi), Sister Thecla, et al – this post is all about my years and stories of time spent with our New Orleans Saints.

It all began way-y back in 1983.

As the young (er) DJ/Q-93 Radio air personality Mike McCann, doors were opened to me that, quite frankly, not everyone gets to walk through.

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Times-Picayune Ad for that Mike McCann dude back in the mid-’80s

Together with Walton & Johnson (new to NOLA and also new to WQUE-FM radio), we emceed talent shows, cheerleader competitions… I even hosted Ladies’ Nights at the Airport Sheraton’s nightclubs known as Nightlite and Valentine’s.

My ‘job’ on those nights was to entertain – walk the club with a wireless mic, run crazy contests, give away concert tickets, albums (yes, vinyl), tell jokes, and keep the party going.

The club was packed every night and the dance floors were jammin’ to the likes of Rick James, Prince, Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder….

Morten Andersen, as he looked in those studly Valentines/Airport Sheraton days

The regular crowd on those poker-hot wild nights included Morten Andersen, Brian Hansen, Dave Waymer, Saints new & old, even members of the then-fledgling U.S.F.L.’s New Orleans Breakers.

In the ’80s, the Saints’ go-to kicking team was Morten Andersen & Brian Hansen, and one night I showed up for Ladies Nights only to find Morten & Brian, dates in hand, waiting in line to get in!

Of course, I helped them ‘cut’ the line. Wouldn’t you?

Saints’ Defensive Back Dave Waymer (1958-1993)

Legendary Saint free safety, the late Dave Waymer (ole #44) was a regular, sitting at the end of the bar through many a night. I have fond memories of Dave,  the laughs we shared, as well as the the way-too-many Canadian Moosehead beers he would send my way.

Sadly, upon exiting NOLA for brief stints with the 49ers & Raiders, Dave died suddenly on his North Carolina farm at the age of only 34.

In the early ’80s, now-Pro Football Hall of Famer Morten Andersen, the Great Dane, was new to the states & New Orleans, while I was freshly-minted as the new afternoon drive guy on Q-93.

Upon meeting in ’83, we bonded, talked on-air together, laughed and swapped stories, hung-out at the clubs together, even chased a woman or two together. Great guy, great times, greater stories. 

And not many fit for a blog post.

Ole reliable #8, Archie Manning, in a classic shot from his Saints days

Fast-forward to the ’90s, and in the early days of Airlift Productions, in the Iberville Street years, my audio production skills, voice and writing came to the attention of Archie Manning.

Archie, together with Mississippi bodybuilder Steve Smith, created Archie Manning’s Golds Gym at Cleary and Veterans Blvd. in Metairie, and I began a two-year run working alongside Archie to promote the gym.

This involved regular meetings with Archie, my writing of all the spots, audio production, and regular studio visits to record with Archie.

Like this gem we produced for Christmas one year…

** Archie Manning’s Golds Gym – Christmas 1992 radio :60 **

While I’ve never met his boyz Peyton & Eli, I’ve sure shared some amazing times with ole #8, the dude that started it all!

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Deuce McAllister records PSA TV VoiceOvers with Airlift Productions, NOLA

I first met and recorded living legend & ‘ground pounder’, the Saints’ Dulymus “Deuce” McAllister in 2016, after being sought out to record his voiceover tracks for the Mississippi State Child Protective Services Department.

Together, we phone-patched to their offices and captured his voice for use in a PSA campaign that ran all over MS. radio & TV for a cause that Deuce & I hold close to our hearts – keeping our kids out of harm’s way.

‘Nuff said. But what a great, humble, and soft-spoken guy this is.

The one Saint that stuck?

The one I still run with and call a good friend?

Brad’s trading card… gee, smells sorta like bubble gum

Brad Edelman.

St. Louis-bred Brad Edelman, ole #63, was drafted by the Saints in 1982, got to NOLA just a bit before me, and went on to become the first offensive lineman in the history of the Saints selected to the NFL Pro Bowl.

He exited the NFL in 1991, began a thriving photography business, took up drumming, the harmonica, acting – and took to hanging out with yours truly.

Brad Edelman & Airlift Mike, having a laugh at Airlift Productions NOLA, 2017

Brad has come to my Endymion parties on Iberville Street, got to know my family, bought me lunches… and has spent a lot of time around my Airlift Productions recording, laughing, and, well, just being brotherly.

Give a listen to Brad’s wailing harmonica as he backs up Richie Lenz (former WDSU-TV Anchor/Sports dude) on this post-Katrina ditty we entitled, “I Ain’t Livin’ in The Bowl No More”, here….

** Post-Katrina Therapy with Rich & Brad ~ Oh my! **

Through my now-36-year run here in New Orleans running the Airlift Productions Studios – from Iberville to Pomona – I’ve certainly got more than my share of colorful stories.

But my days/daze with our New Orleans Saints, young & old, still with us and those departed, are among my favorites.

And today, with so much of my work centered around the AudioBook field, I was joking just the other day with son Ben about Drew Brees.

Come on, I told him, if I’ve already recorded James Carville, Mary Matalin, Congressman Steve Scalise,  & Necar Zadegan for the top AudioBook producers in NYC… even personally read “The Chef” for James Patterson’s gang….

Drew Brees entertains a captive Sunday Superdome crowd

Upon hanging up the cleats and retiring, walking away from the game,  it’s safe to say that ole #9 Drew’s got a book or two in him, right?

Stranger things than this have already happened – one day he’ll need a great space, a finely-tuned recording studio, together with an experienced and reliable producer, to lay it down…

“Drew Brees, take #1…”

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​”Airlift Productions in New Orleans – Perfect sound in the booth, amazing engineering, and Mike is a man of all trades who can do voice work as well. (Probably the most golden-toned voice I have ever heard and we’ve all heard some lovely voices)… I cannot say enough nice things about the experience of working with him.” ~ LISA CAHN, Veteran Producer, Hachette Audio Book Group, NYC

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

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

Is Audio Recording An Art … Or A Science? Or Magic?

The short answer? All three! The long answer? How much time do you have? Too many questions? Oops, another question…

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To begin with, all sound travels in waves.  That’s analog.  As I speak, my voice travels from my larynx to your ear as a wave form. Now, in capturing said wave form in a recording device or computer for editing and storage, it is still considered and called a wave form, but then it’s digital.  Science.

But making MAGIC with that wave form is quite another thing altogether.  Art.

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Airlift Productions “Booth” ~ where talent shines!

Now, creating an environment, a creative space, a ‘vibe’, a place to make that audio magic – that audio alchemy –  possible is yet another story completely.

Art & Science & Magic get it on at Airlift Productions!

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Original Airlift Productions Studio Design ~ Micheal Ziants, 2001

First off, the entire Airlift Productions air space is completely out-of-square with no parallel walls, and the studio ceiling rises from front to back.

It’s built like the ancient Greeks built the amphitheater – sound waves naturally propagate from the near-field reference monitors in the front across the room to the back wall.

The Airlift Studios control room widens from about 6 feet at the front … to nearly 12 feet at the back. A critical listening space should never be constructed with parallel walls, ceiling & floor, as this creates standing waves, slap-back echoes and assorted audio headaches.

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Airlift Productions “Gift of Life” Stained Glass Window

Room treatment, acoustic foam, carpeting on the walls, natural daylight filtered through stained glass, and dimmer-controlled mood lighting further enhance artist & engineer comfort & creativity through the entire recording process.

Yes, Art & Science get it on at Airlift Productions!  To create MAGIC.

Purpose-designed for comfort, creativity & breath-taking sound, Airlift has delivered the goods since 1984 … from local to global with style!

From broadcast to podcast, big screen to small.  From simple voice over tracks to full band or artist CD projects, test-drive your first session today, from wherever you are …  on the web at  Airlift Productions.

“Weapons of Mass Production” ~ Airlift Productions, New Orleans

Airlift Mike, always as close as the mouse on your desktop or the cell in your pocket at #504.833.8450.

When quality counts ~ count on Airlift Productions.  Audio Alchemy from New Orleans since 1984.

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Micheal Ziants & Sean O’Shea, navigating the twists & turns of AudioBook production

“Airlift Mike was a saint, and ridiculously patient and supportive (and helpful!!) for this audio book virgin. In another environment, without the support, and with pressure to perform “right”, I probably would have completely fallen apart. So the MVP for this getting done goes 100% to Mike and the chilled out environment he’s cultivated…personally and within his studio… A big heartfelt thanks to Mike and the years of expertise he brought to this project to ensure I sounded my very best. If you’re ever in Nola and need the best audio dude, and the best dude dude, holler at my man Mike with www.airliftproductions.com”

—- Los Angeles & NOLA-based Dog Trainer SEAN O’SHEA

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from New Orleans since 1984

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

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)

 

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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 ***

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

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

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from NOLA since 1984

… we’ll leave the light on for you.

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

{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

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

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Airlift Productions Proprietor Micheal Ziants as a ‘babe in the woods’ New Castle, PA. What, no headphones?

From New Castle (PA) to New Orleans (LA) … to quote the California sage Jerry Garcia, “What a long strange trip it’s been!”
 
Born in New Castle (just north of Pittsburgh) to Charlie & Phyllis, the middle child of five kids, by the time I was five, we’d already relocated all the way to Florida – where we moved two additional times in three years … before moving back north to Youngstown, Ohio.
 
So, let me see, I’m all of nine years old and I’ve already had five different mailing addresses in three different states in the union.  No, pop wasn’t running from the law, just an upwardly mobile and in-demand chemical/mechanical engineer.
My first jobs were newspaper boy, altar boy, and grocery bagging and delivery boy.  Boy, that’s a lot of ‘boys’.  And great training at a young age in dependability and responsibility for manhood, I might add.
Even as a young dude (boy) through all these very same years, the roots of the recording studio and voiceover career were planted. I took up acting in civic children’s theater, studied ventriloquism (even built my own dummy), taught myself to play the guitar (had my own band in high school) … and fell in love with radio & communications.

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Micheal Ziants High School Grad Pic 1970 Northwestern High, Beaver Falls, PA

Upon graduating high school, with dreams of heading to the military academy at West Point, I spent a year working hard as a land surveyor during the day and attending Penn State by night. When the academy dreams fell apart, I’ve got to admit – it was radio, communications and broadcasting that captured my heart.
 
Big time!
So, after carrying a 4.0 in English, Speech, Philosophy and (oh, my) Calculus at Penn State, I decided to drop out, follow my heart and launch a career in radio. Now the fun begins.
From Columbus to Youngstown, Ohio … Harrisburg, PA to Saint Louis, MONashville, TN to Philadelphia, PA … all before landing in the land of sugarcane and Pontchartrain – New Orleans!

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Airlift Proprietor Micheal Ziants as alter-ego John Saint John, in the production room at WLAC, Nashville, 1980

Yes, I’ve been hired – and fired – from some of the finest radio stations in America!  And worked for some of the country’s hallmark names and companies … the Joseph Pulitzer family-KSD Radio in St. Louis, Billboard Magazine-WLAC, Nashville, and General Cinema Corporation-WIFI, Philadelphia.
When I arrived in New Orleans at Q-93, the station was then owned by Insilco, a Fortune 500 outfit with silver mines all over planet earth! 
But I just grew tired and weary of the fragile existence that radio offered and/or threatened, along with the toll on my private and personal life.
You want to know something?  Women will only take to that packing and unpacking, up-and-down-the-radio-dial life for just so long … before they say ‘so long’.
 
Necessity being the mother of invention, I began the Airlift Productions thing – recording and producing ‘voice-overs for export’ – long before it became fashionable.  I built my first recording studio in 1984, ‘burned the ships’ (as the expression goes) and never looked back.

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The Original Airlift Productions – before digital, the internet & mp3s – in the closet of my one-bedroom apartment – 1985

Airlift Productions was my opportunity to combine all my loves – acting, music, communications, production and radio – into my own business. Oh sure, I could still run the bus off the road, but at least from now onward … I was the one at the wheel.  
 
1984 was the age of reel-to-reel magnetic recording tape, grease pencils and splicing blocks, cassettes and Fed Ex next-day deliveries. The internet and world wide web, mp3 email attachments, and digital non-destructive edits weren’t even dreams yet in a tech head’s head!
Fast-forward now to 2020… and the kid has stayed in the picture.  I still love to paint those mental pictures, color the air with bright pastels and deep earth-toned hues … motivate with sound!

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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!

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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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Han Solo Records VoiceOver At Airlift Productions

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The New Han Solo recorded “Beautiful Creatures” movie V-O at Airlift Productions NOLA

Little did  Alden Ehrenreich or I realize when we first met that he was destined to become Han Solo!

Hired to record some last-minute Hollywood South VoiceOver for Alden’s latest movie “Beautiful Creatures”, I certainly didn’t know what to expect that June morning of 2012.

In this teen-goth, supernatural, romantic thriller with a southern twist, Alden had been cast as the star-crossed lead lover Ethan Wate. And as the fates would have it, there were a few key monologue voice over tracks left un-recorded when they got to post-production.

Enter Airlift Mike and Airlift Productions.

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Alden Ehrenreich at the Big Star Wars Han Solo Announcement Party

When I answered the door that morning there was Alden, boyishly handsome, with a cheery “Good Morning”…. and a pint bottle of Jamaican Red Stripe lager in his hand.

When I questioned this rather novel approach to a recording session, he said simply that “This is for after we’re done!”

So, after it we went.  Together with veteran movie sound pro Jeffrey Haupt, screen play writer & director Richard LaGravenese, a dialect coach from London, and their entourage, we laid down VoiceOver tracks for this moody suspense thriller.

Witness a taste of Alden’s acting chops here; don’t you love the faux southern accent? I mean, he was born and raised in Los Angeles, with roots further back (like yours truly) in Austria & Hungary —

And more recently, Alden stole the show – and even upstaged George Clooney himself –  in the 2016 Hollywood-Golden-Era homage Coen Brothers flick “Hail, Caesar!” as celluloid cowboy hero Hobie Doyle. Check him out here….

Fast-forward just a tick, then, and imagine our collective surprise when out of the thousands who auditioned for the part, the Lucas-Disney machine that IS the STAR WARS franchise cast this dude for the Star Wars prequel – as the NEW HAN SOLO!

You go, Alden!

So, let me see, if Alden is 29 today, back when we met and recorded together he was all of 22. So, back to that day ….

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Alden (dead center) holding his own at the “Hail, Caesar” Party – with Josh, George, Jonah, and Channing …. hey, there goes the neighborhood, huh?

After the session, he popped the top on his Jamaican Red Stripe and began to share it with me! We went slug-for-slug like Catholics at a communion rail, laughed, and talked of his past, present and future.

But little did either of us realize that day that the future would include his casting in the biggest movie juggernaut of the 21st century!

And today, that empty bottle of Jamaican Red Stripe is still sitting up on the Airlift commissary shelves, beside other noteworthy bottles of wine, scotch & Wild Turkey emptied after sessions past to celebrate & commemorate memorable Airlift Studio recording sessions.

Happy and thrilled for you the Airlift Productions krewe is, Alden!

Thanks again for the laughs, brotherhood… and Jamaican lager.

Oh, and despite some of the sketchy reviews of your latest intergalactic celluloid effort (some say “meh”), may the Force Be With You, my brother!

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E.R.I.C. the talking skull records VoiceOver at Airlift Productions

“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.  Check the good doctor out anytime at www.morgus.com ***

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Airlift Mike On-Camera performing with Sid in “Morgus Presents” 1988, re-broadcast on Fox-8

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

From Books-on-Tape to CDs in 1993? Courtesy Airlift Productions

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(L-R) Charlie Biondo, “Miss Linda” Mintz, Micheal Ziants, celebrating over 3,500 units sold, “Soft Words, Warm Nights”

While the world was still calling the genre “Books-On-Tape” in 1993, Airlift Productions self-published and successfully sold spoken word CDs to libraries across America – and to the world via the Playboy catalog.

I realize that this all sounds a tad mad, but let me tell you the story.

I first met New Orleans icon “Miss Linda”, Linda Mintz, during a session at the Airlift Studios on Iberville street in 1993 while recording radio commercials for a local client.

Our muses, along with the stars, somehow aligned after that session while Linda and I discussed our love for poetry… as we hatched the egg of an idea for an outfit we dubbed “WordMusic”.

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“Miss Linda” Mintz & Micheal Ziants (McCann), during recording sessions for “Soft Words, Warm Nights”, Airlift Productions, 1993

Linda, long known and loved by generations of New Orleanians as Romper Room’s “Miss Linda”, had been reared with a love and respect for the magic of poetry.

Yours truly, while working all over New Orleans airwaves as a commercial voice and producer, was looking to create a self-published project that had “legs”, would be “evergreen” and that we could get behind and market to the world.

Produced on Iberville Street (all on reel-to-reel tape), voiced by Linda & me, and backed by husband Albert Mintz… we called the project “SOFT WORDS, WARM NIGHTS”.

** “I Love You/A Bright New Land”… Soft Words, Warm Nights excerpt with Linda Mintz & Micheal Ziants **

Imagine the world’s most romantic poetry lovingly rendered – and cast against the lush backdrop of the sounds of nature, coupled with a meditative new age score.

Score one for the kids on Iberville Street!

** Bess, the landlord’s daughter sacrifices herself to save her lover, Mike Ziants reads the classic, “The Highwayman” from SWWN **

Together with marketing pal Charlie Biondo, we drew the attention of Bayside Distributors in California, produced cassette tapes AND CDs in 1993, were successfully reviewed by all the major trade publications, and took it to market!

** “Will You Love Me When I’m Old?” from SWWN **

After selling over 3,500 to libraries across the U.S., we attended the American Booksellers Association trade show in Chicago, where I personally pitched the project to Hugh Hefner!

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“Soft Words, Warm Nights”, featured in the Playboy catalog, 1995

Hef was back in his hometown that weekend to promote Playboy’s 40th Anniversary coffee table book and, little did he know it – but get a fast pitch from Micheal Ziants.

Playboy Magazine’s catalog then featured our “Soft Words, Warm Nights” in several editions, helping us to move over 500 units, saying that our CD created “Irresistible Ambiance”.

While I caught a lot of kidding & ribbing  from family and fellow radio pals here in NOLA over this entire escapade, it remains one of my favorite stories.

What wasn’t so pleasant?

In an attempt to get a major ongoing distributor for our work, upon sending our CDs to every single major AudioBook publisher at the time, we were not only turned down – but ripped off! 

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“Soft Words, Warm Nights” CD artwork, Airlift Productions/WordMusic 1993

As the idea – romantic spoken word, produced with music & sound effects – was copied within a year by many of them, along with known Hollywood actors that carried marquistype names.

(Sigh!)

Oh well, as the Bard once opined, “It is better to have loved and lost… than to have never loved at all.”

Besides, it still makes for great “Did-you-hear-the-one-about-the-BIG-one-that-got-away?” type stories around the bar and NOLA parties.

Furthermore, as Churchill reminded us all, “Never. Never. Never. Give up!”… and from the vernacular, “He who loves and runs away, lives to fight another day.”

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Airlift Mike, Micheal Ziants, reads James Patterson’s “The Chef” for Hachette AudioBooks, NYC/Paris

I haven’t. (Given up.)

And.. I have! (Lived for another day.)

I mean, back in the 1990s, how was I to know that here in 2019 my path would intersect with one of the world’s biggest and best-selling authors? 

“Now showing” on earbuds near you, from the Hachette AudioBook Group, and today available on all worldwide platforms… Micheal Ziants narrates and interprets James Patterson’s “THE CHEF”.

And trust me, gang – Soft words and a warm night, this ain’t!

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“Working with Airlift Mike in NOLA was an utter pleasure. I was in town for business for a month and needed to maintain my audiobook recording schedule. Mike was accommodating and a pure professional. He mastered the punch and roll technique in 24 hours to be ready for our first session, and over the course of the month we laid down 5 books and a number of auditions. His studio sounds great. The vibe & atmosphere can’t be beat. You’d be hard pressed to find a better recording studio in the southeast – no matter what your needs. I wish I could have stayed!” ~ Amy Landon


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

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