It’s kind of funny after all these years and all this time, but I’m still asked about the ‘Mike McCann’ thing.
After all, most disc jockeys (as we were called back in the day) or air personalities on the radio used a stage name or alias for on-air purposes. Perhaps this gave us a more dramatic & imaginative persona, but it also assured us some form of anonymity and privacy. Some form.
A Pennsylvania native with roots further back in Austria & Hungary, and with brothers & uncles who’ve actually mined coal for a living, I’ve long been proud of the family name ‘Ziants’, but never used it on the radio.
In fact, through 12 years on-air, all through my tours of duty in Harrisburg (WKBO), Saint Louis (KSD), Nashville (WLAC), and Philadelphia (WIFI) … I was known to the masses as John Saint John!
And it really worked. I could play on and riff on that name all day long … ‘Philly’s one radio saint – that ain’t’, or (in St. Louis) ‘preaching the gospel according to St. John from the banks of the Mississippi’, and … well, you get the idea.
Without a doubt, the radio days/daze in Harrisburg, PA are among my favorite memories through all these years. “And don’t forget to smell the flowers along the way, ’cause we’re only here for a short while.”
** Micheal as John St. John, On the Air @ WKBO Radio, Harrisburg, PA **
In fact, some of my best pals & brothers-in-arms from along the banks of the Susquehanna now belong to the ages and pages of broadcast history.
Your names – and broadcast contributions – are now the stuff of Legend.
** Micheal as John St. John, WLAC, Nashville, 1980 **
But you know, names, people and places will always change … and upon my arrival in New Orleans in 1983, so did the “John Saint John” thing.
Q-93 (owned at the time by Insilco, an international silver company, really) employed a mid-day jock (who still today does production for Entercom’s WWL) by the on-air name of STEVE St. John … a jock that I would have to follow in afternoon drive! Uh-oh.
WQUE management loved what I had been doing on-air in Philadelphia, and flew me down to hire me in June of 1983. But the name had to go!
Oh well, (sigh) what’s that old Billy Shakespeare line about, “A rose by any other name…”?
So, ‘Mike McCann’ was born. And in one fell swoop, Q-93 hired me for afternoon drive … and these two crazed characters out of Beaumont, Texas – Walton & Johnson for morning drive … all in that one fateful week!
** Mike McCann On the Air @ Q-93/WQUE-FM, along with Walton & Johnson, May 1984 **
Now, at that point in time, John & Steve had only been together for 5 months as a team, having met for a breakfast and formed their alliance just a half year before – in Beaumont.
I had been a top-rated and tested major market air personality for years, and was looking to do mornings at Q, but management had other ideas. And that is the subject for yet another blog… another time.
What’s in a name? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
“For years, I have worked with Micheal Ziants and Airlift Productions recording songs for Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Miracle Network. Mike’s attention to detail is legendary, but his commitment to the kids and the challenges they face goes far beyond that. He gets it. Professionally, he’s as good as it gets. Everyone SOUNDS better after a session with Mike. And no matter what the audio project, you FEEL better after a session with Airlift. That’s “Z” truth! — HEATH ALLEN, WDSU-TV Reporter, and Veteran Guitar Picker
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!
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!
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.
In 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 toprotect 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.
“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
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!”
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.
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.
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.
I left Harrisburg on my own terms to pursue my first major market air shift in St. Louis. And I indeed exited Q-93 (as afternoon DJ/Air personality) in 1985 to build my own dream, to fulfill my destiny… to create Airlift Productions.
Airlift Productions was my way of taking all the skills that I’d learned from”the man” and putting them to work for myself! I simply parlayed the many skills garnered and fine-tuned through all those radio years into self-employment as a VoiceOver talent and recording studio owner.
The final chapter? Well, it has yet to be written. As the old advertising adage goes… “watch this space…”
“Mike has a great voice and he’s a great guy! We’ve produced many projects together and he’s always at the top of his game. I love working with him.” ~ Steve Scaffidi, Founder & Managing Partner at Ghost Rider Pictures, NOLA
It was the ancient Chinese sage Confucius who once said, “Choose work that you love… and you will never have to work a day in your life”. Joseph Campbell amplified this comment with his admonition, “Follow your bliss!”
Furthermore, the Cherokee used to tell their children that we are all ‘born with a song’, and that we all need to learn to sing that song. Not someone else’s song…. but our unique song.
Well, I actually used to fall asleep as a pre-teen kid in Youngstown, Ohio with a transistor radio tucked under the pillow, listening to far-off radio stations in Chicago (WLS & WCFL) and New York (WABC) dreaming of one day being a radio star.
To communicate with someone unseen without wires over great distances was to a kid the stuff of magic. I wanted to be the magician – badly.
The millennial of 2018 would not even recognize the time. At all. No internet, no world wide web… no iPhones, iPads, iPods, or apps. Video games? Excuse me? Pong & Pac-Man were hardly even on the horizon. The compact disc & video tape hadn’t even been invented yet, let alone ‘cloud storage’ or DVD. The 7-inch 45 rpm record, the audio cassette, and reel-to-reel tape was it. And it was magic!
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!
** 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
“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
Alrighty then, avid blog readers, let’s lace-up the Nikes for yet another jog down memory lane … now forty-three years in the rear view mirror, the year is 1974, in a far-off land known as Pennsylvania.
My previous blog on the late Harry Chapin only tangentially mentioned the very-much-still-with-us ‘Wizard & True Star’ Todd Rundgren, so let’s elaborate on Todd and pick it up there….
As WKBO afternoon air personality John Saint John, I acted as host that fateful day for a Warner Brothers-Elektra-Atlantic label ‘meet & greet’ party we called the ‘3-Ring Circus’ as all of the state capital it seemed showed-up at the Harrisburg East Mall to welcome Todd Rundgren, Harry Chapin, and the group Cactus!
While it’s not totally visible in the above picture of Todd & Harry, Todd Rundgren was sporting quite the ‘do that day – he had his hair dyed … in four different colors & shades! Four separate quadrants – black, blonde, orange … and green! Really.
But all the snickers, jokes, and good-natured ribbing – to say nothing of jealousies – that day were reserved for Todd’s love life, as Harry and the Cactus gang just would not leave him alone about his babe Bebe Buell! Do yourself a favor and ‘google’ this girl.
At this point in time, Todd was hot ‘n heavy with the ultimate groupie of all rock history! Bebe was not only Hugh Hefner’s pick for the November Playboy mag playmate that year, she also went on to the bed of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, and is, in fact, the mother of Hollywood actress Liv Tyler! I kid you not.
Broke poor Todd’s heart is what she did.
But in 1974 – as the whole gang that day teased him endlessly about and would not leave him alone about – Bebe was all Todd’s.
But, hey, women may come, and women may go … so, what else is new? The remarkable thing about Todd Rundgren was and IS his blazing and amazing talents – on both sides of the glass.
Todd would write every song, play every instrument, sing every vocal track, produce the entire album top to bottom – and it was ALL HIM! He was the talent, the producer & the engineer. Damn!
Every time you hear “Hello, it’s Me”, “I Saw the Light”, or “We Got to Get You a Woman” on classic rock radio, or sing along to the anthem “Bang the Drum All Day” at a sporting event – that’s Todd!
As producer and engineer, Todd also steered the careers of Meatloaf, Grand Funk Railroad, Badfinger & countless others … while Saturday mornings, his contributions to Paul Reuben’s ‘Pee Wee’s Playhouse’ are legendary. To detail all his input and impact on 20th century music would make this blog impossibly long.
The cutesy story of that amazing day in Harrisburg with Todd just has to be this one he gave me – the one about school desks at Upper Darby High School in Philadelphia still today carrying his rather unique and imaginative doodles and carvings.
As that little Pennsylvania boy just daydreamed his life away… as if!
Today, happily married to Michele with Upper Darby High School and Pennsylvania well in his rear view mirror, and living large on the island of Hawaii, Todd continues to mystify and amaze his planet-wide army of fans with tunes that stand the test of time.
“Thank you Michael for being so accommodating, and making my job truly enjoyable. I’ve recorded in many professional studios all around Australia throughout the years, but I felt right at home and was really impressed with the huge Airlift Productions recording space & booth you built. Recording with you was as easy as if I were in my own studio back in Australia – and that really makes for a successful session. All your wonderful compliments didn’t hurt the vibe either! My ego appreciates your generous, kind words. Thanks again for being such a gentleman.” — RHIANNON BOULGER, VoiceOver Artist & Aussie Voice for Shell Oil
Footprints in the Sands of Time …. or skid marks at the intersection?
I guess it’s human nature for all of us to seek love and respect in life. From family, friends and co-workers. And to be thought lovingly of and to be fondly remembered by those we’ve left behind is to never die. You know, “footprints”.
Well, as a life-long student of history and philosophy, I’ve read many a book on history, but I can honestly say that I’ve never been IN one … until now.
I don’t know what you – the reader of this blog – were doing in the 1970s, or even if you were alive in the ’70s, but in that decade I left enough creative blood and sweat in Harrisburg, PA radio station control rooms to fill a swimming pool!
And here, in the 21st century, Harrisburg native, broadcast vet, engineer & scholar Timothy P. Portzline has written ‘Harrisburg Broadcasting: Images of America’, wherein he devotes an embarrassing amount of ink to yours truly.
Available today through all the usual outlets and on Amazon here — ‘Harrisburg Broadcasting’ tells the remarkable story – along with images – of radio’s & television’s roots in the state capital of Pennsylvania. Including that irascible John Saint John guy.
Yes, it was my job every afternoon for over five years to entertain state workers (white & blue collar) in the ‘commuter combat zones’… topical, relevant, cutesy, but never ‘rude, crude, or lascivious’. And it was all LIVE and direct into car speakers years before the internet, web, mp3 players and digital downloads.
Listen to a WKBO Radio AirCheck of John Saint John from 1977, along with Listener Introduction here ….
This recording, along with a few others, helped to catapult me from Harrisburg to afternoon drive with the Pulitzer Family at NBC affiliate KSD Radio in Saint Louis the very next year.
‘Fun’ is too weak a word. ‘Exciting’ barely captures the passion and drive. Personality Radio to a then-20-something was EVERYTHING! It’s a good thing J. Albert Dame (WKBO owner)didn’t know it, but I would have paid HIM for the opportunity.
And to think, to this wild-eyed wanderer … New Orleans, recording studio entrepreneurship and Airlift Productions weren’t even dreams yet or even on my radar.
Just as well, we’ll leave it all to the History Books to sort things out and make sense of the whole affair. Footprints? Or skid marks? Either way, I wouldn’t change a thing or trade a day. I did it my way.
In the meantime, the mics are hot and the creative juices are still flowing … in NOLA … every day … at AirliftProductions.com