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
I first met Mike Pintekin 1975 at a quaint 1,000 watt radio station in a far off land known asPennsylvania.
It was WKBO radio in Harrisburg, PA and, as fellow same-year (1952) baby-boomers, we were both relatively new to the radio game, 24 years old, and, as the tacky, crude expression goes, “young, dumb, and full of ____!”
And I say ‘far off land’ because, as a ‘damn Yankee’, I’ve called New Orleanshome for 35 years now and seldom return to the rolling hills of Pennsylvania and the land of my birth.
Pintek served as the afternoon news dude for John Saint John (he said, using the 3rd person) every afternoon as, daily 2-6 pm, we entertained our “fighting troops in the commuter combat zones” of the statecapital.
Night times were different stories.
As 24 year old guys, away from home, single, hormonal, it was bars, night clubs, and the like – and, of course, Monday Night Football watching with the rest of the boyz, especially when the Steelers were on.
Give a listen to afternoon drive in the Bicentennial year of 1976! Just don’t judge us too harshly. Shucks, we were only 24 and still wet behind the headphones.
So, where am I going with all this?
Well, last week up in PA brother Mike decided to drop his body and move to “the other side” – dead at 65 from pancreaticcancer complications.
And I just came here to unpack a few things.
Through many of my now-over-30 years of self employment with Airlift Productions, Mike stuck to his radio guns and went on to entertain Pittsburgh, PA with a highly-rated talk show at legendary 50,000 watt behemoth KDKA for 30 years!
Earlier, in ’79, Mike even went on to break one of America’s biggest stories of the 20th century – the nearly catastrophic core meltdown at Three Mile Island! (wait, let’s make that a triple exclamation mark !!!)
What a testament to his awesome powers of communication, longevity, innate talents, and skill. Mike Pintek was born to the radio.
Yet, here in 2018, many folks just don’t get it.
Radio, just like wartime, bonds its warriors – like crazy glue.
And as Garth Brooks once opined, those who live ‘outside the fire’ will never fully understand those living within… and consumed by it.
Mike and I were crazy glue bonded warriors living inside the fire, living lives never fully understood by the overwhelming majority who never felt the pressure, the joys, the daily combat of on-mic performance.
** My YouTube tribute to my Keystone State Media Titans **
And my warrior buds continue to fall by the wayside, gone, but not forgotten….
Joe Wambach, Fred Honsberger, Marvin ‘Goose’ Goslin, ‘Big Jim’ Roberts, Gary Magill, Jeff Kauffman, Charlie Adams, Rick ‘Chris’ Andree, J. Al Dame – every single name here, fellow WKBO warriors in the broadcast trenches with Mike & I, now … gone.
Now, like so many of our comrades, Mike Pintek has fought his last fight.
But you wanna know something?
Everyone has to die. But not everyone truly lives!
While way too many folks today live half-realized lives, commuting to jobs they really don’t like, at hours they don’t care to work, and working for people they don’t respect – Mike and I, like crazy glue bonded warriors, never spent even a day of our lives like that.
Besides, like those righteous dudes Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield once gave voice to – “If you believe in forever, then life is just a one-night stand; if there’s a rock ‘n roll heaven, then they’ve gotta have a hell of a band!”
While here in 2018 Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus has given way to changing times, dwindling ticket sales & digital distractions, as well as a growing respect for the dignity of all animals – and taken down the tent poles for the FINAL time …
Allow me to sidestep the front-page politics and animal rights issues for some rather remarkable personal reflection.
“Mr. Peabody, set the Way-back machine for 1978!”
It was May that year, shortly before my WKBO/Harrisburg exit for St. Louis that yours truly – as John Saint John – felt the calling.
“The Smell of the Greasepaint and the Roar of the Crowd!” OMG!
As afternoon drive air personality for five years at WKBO, I was invited by the PR Team at Ringling Brothers to ‘run off to join the circus’ to help promote the circus coming to town.
That May day in 1978 I showed up in Hershey, PA to help out with the circus parade, as all the animals made their way from the nearest train tracks on to the Hershey Park Arena for the show.
Gunther Gebel-Williams himself (long-famous at this point for his appearances with Johnny Carson & Ed Sullivan), the heroic, blonde, Germanic ‘Caesar of the Sawdust’ & Head Animal Trainer said to me “John, let me help you UP”
He then cupped his hands at knee-height, I stepped in, and he proceeded to catapult me to the top of the largest African bull elephant in the show for my circus parade ride to the arena.
Wow-ee-wow! There I was riding this humongous animal bareback, no saddle – his skin felt like corrugated cardboard – and there I was, steering him as I held him BY THE EARS!
As if this experience wasn’t already enough, after reaching the arena I was escorted past the maze of entertainers from all over the world, listening to a symphony of foreign tongues from all around the earth, to a makeup trailer.
So, Lou proceeds to personally make me up for the show… red-nosed, white-faced, arched eyebrows, a shockingly-orange wig and some crazy duds, so I can join them IN PERFORMANCE!
Now I’m IN the “Clown Car” – a wild customized VW Beetle with all the seats taken out and the windows painted so no one could see in, and they pile a dozen of us into this one little car.
We tear into the arena on-cue and are stopped to a screeching halt on the sawdust by a fellow clown cop who then proceeds to knock us all out as we exit the car!
All to the shrieks and howls of the delighted packed crowd.
What seemed so remarkable at this moment to me was that this was the first time I’d ever made people laugh – WITHOUT EVEN OPENING MY MOUTH!
Heading back to my humble apartment later that May night I couldn’t help but feel a bit small, you know?
Backstage at the circus I listened to every voice and tongue you can imagine, from entertainers who’d traveled from all over the planet to Hershey, PA – the high wire act was from Rio de Janeiro, Gunther & Lou were from Germany, the dog act crowd was Parisian, etc. – and I was just this over-hyped, fast-talking, ego-filled American disc jockey, born just north of Pittsburgh in New Castle.
But I certainly learned a lot about life that day. About community. About teamwork. And a love & appreciation for the most majestic creature on the face of the earth – the elephant.
Oh, and one other thing.
LIFE really IS a Circus!
And we’re not talking metaphor here.
************************************************************** “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, Former 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 Radio Network’s Crusade Channel
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
As I walked from yet another funeral just this morning (rest in peace, Raymond B), Harry’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” was still ringing in my ears.
For yet another person (two in the same week!) had incorrectly credited Cat Stevens with writing this song. Perhaps it’s the ‘cat’ thing, but make no mistake about it, “Cat’s in the Cradle” is ALL Harry!
But let me tell you the real story.
Every time I hear ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’, (like when I’m making groceries at the Rouses and it’s playing overhead on the store speakers), or I hear ‘Taxi’, or ‘W.O.L.D.’ … I always flash back to this day in 1974!
I was John Saint John, Harrisburg, PA’s ‘politically apathetic, tho’ ultra-liberal and semi-hippie rock ‘n roll disc jockey’ at WKBO Radio, and HARRY CHAPIN was making HIS mark on radio stations all across the USA.
In fact, as few today remember, in addition to his stellar music career, Harry helped to create the Presidential Commission on World Hunger, and in 1987, President Reagan posthumously awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal for his dedication and tireless humanitarianism!
What an extremely fine human being and incredible spirit this guy was… and remains today.
On the day these pictures were taken, Harry and I spent the entire day together at the Harrisburg East Mall, and had lunch together – cheeseburgers and fries – along with his son, Joshua, the inspiration for his only #1 song, ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’.
Oh, and the pride of Upper Darby High in Philadelphia Todd Rundgren of ‘Hello, it’s Me’ fame sat in the booth with us too! But that’s another story altogether.
Harry, Todd and I laughed, exchanged jokes and even got philosophical and metaphysical together. Some memory, I’ll tell you that.
As Harry’s epitaph on his tombstone reads, Harry Chapin (1942-1981) … ‘Oh, if a man tried to take his time on Earth and prove before he died what one man’s life could be worth… I wonder what would happen to this world?’
“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
Pardon me as I lace-up the Adidas for yet another jog down memory lane, but there are people you meet in life who change your life. Know what I mean? Meet one of mine.
It was the spring of 1973, and I wanted out of country radio and booth announcing at a TV station in Youngstown, Ohio, and INTO rock ‘n roll Top 40 radio so bad I could taste it!
No one wanted to talk with me about it except this guy.
I first met J. Albert Dame, along with his partner Mike Rea, behind the closed doors of a 3rd story walk-up radio station at 31 North Second Street in Harrisburg, PA. Program Director, Alexander-in-the-morning (Bob Klepic), wanted to give me the afternoon drive shift at the Rock of Harrisburg WKBO, but the decision rested on J. Al’s shoulders.