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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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
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.
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….
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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….
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…
”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
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
Ronald Reagan sat in the White House, America was watching ‘Cosby’ & ‘Family Ties’ on cathode ray tubes, Wendy’s was asking “Where’s the Beef?” …
Videotape & VCRs were state of the art, ‘Romancing the Stone’ was huge at the box office, Los Angeles hosted the Olympic Games, the NFL had competition with the USFL – and Cut Off, LA native Bobby Hebert was QB for it’s Michigan Panthers …
Closer to home, ‘Dutch’ Morial reigned as Mayor of New Orleans, K&B Drugstores were on every corner, Maison Blanche still sat on Canal Street … and the Crescent City opened it’s doors and welcomed the world with the 1984 World’s Fair!
And the day it opened – May 12th, 1984 – yours truly, as Mike McCann, was wrapping up my first year on Q-93 as afternoon air personality.
My weekend gig was doing mid-days on-air every Saturday and, as fate would have it, the day the World’s Fair was unveiled, I was doing the duty – with Walton & Johnson as co-stars.
John & Steve had a remote broadcast on this Saturday from the remodeled Maison Blanche department store on Canal Street – and dropped in from time to time on the broadcast. Oh boy!
Hard to believe that this aircheck is now thirty-three years old! Although the station positioning statement “30 minutes of non-stop music IN STEREO!” is for sure a giveaway.
And the music? Cindy Lauper, Van Halen, Rod Stewart, Culture Club, Madonna …and Prince Rogers Nelson danced in the ‘Purple Rain’.
Give a listen to New Orleans radio in 1984 – in this newly unearthed, never-before-heard gem. It’s WQUE-FM broadcasting from the top of the Tidewater Place building in the 1400 block of Canal Street on May 12th, 1984 – LIVE with Mike McCann —-
Man, it was so hard to find good part-time help in those days. 🙂
Interestingly – and not so coincidentally – 1984 was also the year that I decided to prepare my exit from the radio days and create Airlift Productions!As to Walton & Johnson? Well, John & Steve are still today in 2017 plying their trade in syndication on some of America’s finest radio stations…mgz
“When I need BIG ‘I-know-that-guy’s-voice!’ sound for any production I am working on, the first call I make is to Airlift Mike. Micheal’s penetrating vocals and second-to-none production quality give my movie & audio feature projects the instant respectability they need. If you want to sound like a pro, meaning no one gives a second thought to your audio because it is so well executed, you want to call Airlift!”
— MIKE CHURCH, World-Famous Sirius/XM Talk Show Host, Founding Father Film Maker, Writer & Producer of ‘The Spirit of ’76’ and ‘The Road to Independence’ & Creator of the Veritas Network/Crusade Channel
It’s all over the news this April 2017 week in New Orleans. The Navy’s Blue Angelsreturn, after a six year hiatus, to Belle Chasse for another air show. Along with all the attendant stories of G-force, incredible speeds, and death-defying stunts.
And watching the news coverage I couldn’t help but flashback to my radio days, (cue the harp music interlude) ~ it was the spring of 1984, Belle Chasse Naval Air Base. As Q-93 Radio afternoon air personality Mike McCann, I was invited to take part in promoting the upcoming airshow at the base.
This proved to be one of the more remarkable days of my entire life. Picture yourself, if you can, hurtling through the skies over the Gulf of Mexico at over 500 mph UPSIDE down in the cockpit of an A-4 Skyhawk jet!
My co-pilot? Lieutenant Commander Mike Gershon. Square-jawed, clear-eyed, Bond-like, heroic, courageous, fearless… and dead way before his time. Little did either of us realize the day we flew together that the very next year at an airshow in Niagara Falls he would make history.
Mike Gershon became one of the few Blue Angels to ever perish in action. The crash was fiery, frightening and unforgettable. And today, courtesy of the you tube crowd, you can bear witness to the tragedy – as well as meet Mike & his widow, Sherri, here …
Lieutenant Commander Gershon – together with his #7 jet pictured – now belong to the ages. But today, I’d just like to say…’ Mike, thanks ever so for this incredible memory, sir. For the laughs, jokes, stories, and this fantastically joyous ride-of-a-lifetime!’
And for the 21st century reminder that not all heroes die in battle.
“My experience with Airlift Productions was top notch from the start. My company is based in Los Angeles and I had a client that needed to do a last minute VO session in New Orleans. Micheal was incredibly knowledgeable and accommodating, not to mention a blast to work with! Our session turned out beautifully.”
– Lizz Rantze, Executive Producer, Rantze + Raves Productions, Los Angeles, CA
As Mardi Gras rumbles through the streets of NOLA yet again (bands, beads & boobs), and just ahead of the opening of “50 Shades of Grey” at a cineplex near you … a few thoughts from Airlift.
It’s kind of funny the way life works sometimes. The Chinese call it ‘wu wei’ …. living with the give and take, the flow of life, but the biggest industrial VoiceOver job I got all last year centered around an unbelievable set of circumstances.
The CEO of this major Chicago-based supply house needed VoiceOver work recorded for a huge upcoming convention in Dallas. As fate would have it, the CEO was female, and her request to the video producer was, “Have Micheal read it like he did ‘The Highwayman’ on his website.”
Now, the read in question came from an audio book on CD that I had finished recording in the mid-1990s, “Soft Words, Warm Nights“, and was a far cry from anything I’d been cast to record at that point. Not even close.
Passionate. Dramatic. Cinematic. As you may recall from high school or collegiate English classes, this epic poem tells the tale of highway robbery, torrid passion, star-crossed lovers, suicide & murder!
Certainly not what one would call ‘commercial fare’.
Yet across the decades, this recording of ‘The Highwayman’ was the clincher. This was the approach, the mic technique, the raw emotion that this woman – the corporate decision maker – based her final decision on.
All that being said, here comes another Airlift Mike stretch.
In her sizzling, poker-hot, best-seller “50 Shades of Grey”, E. L. James set fire to the smoldering libidos of women all across the planet.
And now, just ahead of it’s big box office release, Airlift Productionspresents ’50 Shades of Grey ~ the Ziants way’ – no reverb, no special effects, no music. Naked. Raw. Real. Sensual. Oh, and fun!
Plug-in the headphones (no kids allowed) and give a LISTEN to Airlift’s audio book audition track here …
***** Micheal Ziants reads from ’50 Shades of Grey’ *****
To the uninitiated who’ve never heard an audio book, yes, the narrator/reader performs all the parts. It’s all about treating the microphone not as a cold piece of metal … but as a warm, human ear. Making sterile technology & internet downloads all warm … and fuzzy.
It has been said that the most important sexual organ is between the ears, not the legs … the human brain, the gray matter. So, let’s tickle it a bit.
Whether this read influences the next corporate narration VoiceOver job or not is purely an academic question at this point … but for now, let’s just consider this a bedtime story for the 21st century woman.