Tag Archives: Smokey Rivers

Mike McCann/John Saint John… Goes Country?

The now-vacant 45-story Plaza Tower, towering over the New Orleans skyline

With Ken Burns’ epic PBS mini-series documentary on Country Music now being splashed across flat screens all across America, someone cue the “flash-back” harp music….

One of my more obscure contributions to the media DNA of New Orleans was performing as morning drive air personality on the ill-fated  rockin’ country WQXY, Y-96 FM.

While continuing to operate the Airlift Productions studios, then on Iberville Street just off Carrollton and Canal Street, early mornings in late 1989 and early 1990 found me on top of the Plaza Tower building near the Superdome waking UP the Big Easy.

And, WHEW! What a view.

Today in 2019 the same frequency is under Entercom rule and plays classic rock under the Bayou 95.7 banner. 

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“Mike McCann” (seated) in the Airlift Productions Iberville studios, along with ‘the Gator’, circa 1989

But 29 years ago it was a different game in a different town.

Y-96 FM was an ill-fated attempt to unseat NOLA Country mainstay WNOE … from, ironically, an ill-fated building, that since Katrina in 2005 has remained vacant, and a subject of asbestos-tainted controversy.

But that’s another story all together.

Here’s mine.

As the radio fates would have it, a former on-air buddy from the old Nashville days at WLAC, Smokey Rivers (Fred Flanzer), had stepped-in as consultant to Ric Frances (WQXY GM), and I was offered the morning drive position.

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Airlift Productions – as it looked in 1990 on Iberville Street … Reel-to-reel analog decks, outboard gear & mixer, the way recording used to be done. Oh, if only you’d lived then, kids.

So, while continuing to operate Airlift Productions with all my freelance jobs – WGNO-TV, Ronnie Lamarque, The Esplanade Mall, WNOL-TV, The United Way – I also covered mornings for the Y-96 FM Waking Krewe!

Sample just a taste of “your morning M & M on the FM”, sandwiched in-between Dolly Parton, George Strait, Ricky Van Shelton, and Roseanne Cash, here …

** “Mike McCann” WQXY, Y-96 FM, January 1990 **

Ironically, John Volpe (mentioned here as a fellow air personality) today in 2019 is still a super salesman for the Entercom krewe, which today operates this frequency 95.7/Bayou; and Terrell Robinson (featured here) just recently hung-up his “spurs” & headphones after decades of plying his trade as traffic reporter in New Orleans.

Funny, isn’t it, how some things change, and others remain the same.

Here in 2019, country music sure has changed, the radio stations and owners (like an adult game of musical chairs) sure have changed, but the one now-decades-long constant in the whole NOLA media mix?

Airlift Mike and Airlift Productions.

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“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 knowledgable 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

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WLAC, Nashville, 1980 – and John Saint John

NashvilleStreetScene1980In early 1980, Nashville was a very different place. Today’s Country SuperStars were on the playgrounds, if they were even born yet… Conway Twitty was very much alive, George Jones was still rattin’ the Printers Alley bars… and yours truly  was ridin’ herd on the afternoon radio rodeo – as John Saint John!

Think about it. Thirty-eight years ago, Jimmy Carter sat in the Oval Office,  John Travolta’s ‘Urban Cowboy’ was huge at the box office, and my “office” was the afternoon drive seat at WLAC, Nashville.

The internet, world wide web, digital audio and mp3 downloads weren’t even dreams yet in a tech head’s head.  Radio – and AM at that – was king!

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~ 15-WLAC Logo, during it’s final hurrah as a music station, before yielding to changing times and becoming All News & Talk in late 1980 ~

 

Picked up ‘on waivers’ from KSD radio in Saint Louis, I was freshly hired by Billboard Magazine to do the afternoon drive shift  from their swanky showroom studios at 14 Music Circle East every afternoon on the legendary 50,000 watt blowtorch –  WLAC Radio.

Together with RJ Harris, Spider Harrison, Dennis John Cahill, Smokey Rivers, ‘Captain Sunshine’, Randy Davis and Jeff Warren,  we held court as the last bastions of music on WLAC. 

What an exciting and truly awesome gig this was.  To work for Billboard Magazine in Music City, USA and broadcast every afternoon to the entire mid-south. No tape delay, no second takes…it was all LIVE – from my mouth into tens of thousands of ears in a split second!

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~ Airlift Productions’ Micheal Ziants as alter-ego John Saint John, in the WLAC, Nashville Studios in 1980 ~

As most know, but few give thought to, Nashville is not only Music City USA, it is also the capital city of the great state of Tennessee, so much of the talk was centered around politics. In early 1980, that talk revolved around Carter, Reagan & Bush.

And do you remember the music of the 1980s? No, we weren’t playing country. It was more like Donna Summer, Boz Scaggs, Doobie Brothers, Michael Jackson, Eagles, Christopher Cross, Kim Carnes and the Electric Light Orchestra!

That John Saint John guy served them up like this —-

~ WLAC Radio & John Saint John, Wednesday July 30th, 1980 – broadcasting from Nashville’s Music Row ~

Without question, the most fun I’ve ever had with my clothes on!

And the doors that were opened to me as afternoon air personality for WLAC ;  to talk with – and get to know – the Legends of Nashville music:  Brenda Lee, Charlie Daniels, George Jones, Dottie West, I even co-emceed an auto show benefit for Nashville’s Humane Society with Conway Twitty!

During my brief tour of duty at WLAC, I interviewed and sat down with Eddie Money, Ted Nugent, Terry Bradshaw, the Eagles’ lead guitar Don Felder, the comic Gallagher … and Lawrence Welk ran his music publishing company in the offices upstairs – in fact, when he was in town, he’d occasionally knock on the studio window, make faces, and wave at me!

But you can never separate the words Radio & Business.  And in the early 1980s, the handwriting was on the wall – FM penetration, together with it’s stereo & higher fidelity proved the death knell for music-formatted AM radio.  And with it went my job.

In the Fall of 1980, in fact it was Halloween weekend that year,  thirteen months after I was hired, WLAC fired it’s entire air staff- “Trick or Treat”!! In favor of new owners… and a new all News/Talk format.

WLAC-RhythmOfNashvilleSingl

As I look back now, across all these thirty-eight years, I have to admit that it was in the subsequent days of unemployment in Nashville that the seeds of one day being my own boss, having my own business – a recording studio – were first planted.

But there were still fields yet to plow, and Airlift Productions and New Orleans were not even on my radar yet. But we’ll save Philadelphia, WIFI-FM and that wacky city of Brotherly Love for another day. 

That’s a story for another blog and another time.

In the meantime, the creative juices still bubble over daily at the Airlift Productions Studios on Pomona in New Orleans. Stop by for a cold one when you can. We’ll leave the mics hot for you!

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BoWalkerAirliftProductionsNOLA“I met Mike in the mid 80’s when I was first starting out in the business … a consummate professional and just a really nice guy. He has seen me through the highs and lows of this business during my 33 year career. I walked away in 2014. He has produced countless air checks for me when I was fired and looking for a new gig. I have recorded in all 3 of his studios from a closet at Rock Creek in Metairie, Mid City, and just recently when I recorded a few pages of an audio book as a demo for a friend/author who just released a new book. Mike is a true friend.” ~ BO WALKER, New Orleans radio legend & Former Production Director, I-Heart Media, NOLA

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from New Orleans since 1984