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
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