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
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 2019… 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
With all the equipment in the Airlift Productions studios – bouncing meters, glowing lights, ‘bells & whistles’ – the one thing visitors and clients seem to remark the most about is, strangely enough, the Window!
Its custom-cut, stained glass beauty captures every New Orleans sunset from it’s setting in the western wall of the studio, and gives constant feedback on current sky conditions as it reflects the tempo of each and every recording day.
Inspired by ancient Mayan illustrations and pyramid hieroglyphics, it was custom-designed to carry the colors of the Airlift Studios into it’s intricate artwork – from the passionate purple of the walls to the midnight blue carpet & charcoal grey acoustic foamed walls.
“The Gift of Life”, as it is called, symbolizes the spiritual journey of man.
At the center is the flame-like symbol of God who is Light & Life, the Creator of All.
The Triangle – symbolizing Mind, Spirit & Soul enlightened by God in its midst – is within the circle that signifies God is All in All, without beginning or end.
And surrounding the circle are the glyph signs for sky, earth’s abundance, and precious water.
And this magnificent artwork accomplishes all this spiritually without being overtly religious, to say nothing of ‘choosing up sides’ – favoring one religion, faith, or approach over another.
“The Gift of Life” also serves as the perfect backdrop and vibe for all the intensely creative audio projects & work being recorded and captured at the Airlift Productions Studios.
Boy, just when you thought you had all the answers … they changed all the questions!
Watching ‘Mad Men’ re-runs on Netflix the other night, it hit me again as to how completely flipped and upside/down marketing & advertising has become from the 20th to the 21st century.
We’ve transitioned rather dramatically from ‘interruption’ marketing to ‘permission’ marketing.
Think about it, from the local disc jockey hitting a commercial and joking about the station ‘paying the light bill’ to the network newscaster ‘interrupting’ the news stories to sell you stuff … ‘interruption marketing/advertising’ was, last century, THE way to get your message across.
Today – in 2019 – even the 7 year old child skillfully navigates the remote control fast-forwarding the DVR box through the commercials … and then turns around and price-comparison-shops from a smart phone in the aisles at Target or Best Buy!
‘Permission marketing’ in the 21st century ‘allows’ the buyer into your world when he is ready to buy. It gives the buyer all the pertinent information needed UPON REQUEST via the device they have on-hand – in many cases IN their hand – to make the buying decision.
So, telling your compelling story on-line, making yourself available 24-7-365, and letting the potential buyer know about your satisfied customers while on-line has indeed become the 21st century marketing challenge.
And no matter the century, it’s just plain human nature that people/buyers will put more trust and faith in what other people have to say about you … than anything you have to say about yourself.
The power of a well worded, sincere testimonial – let alone from someone already known and trusted – speaks volumes about one’s service rendered or product offered.
In a virtual world where, in many cases, the entire transaction is done without human interaction, smiles, winks or handshakes, and across miles and state lines – the testimonial creates trust!
And this is precisely why I’ve just recently dedicated many hours to revamping the Airlift Productions website’s Testimonial Page.
From VoiceOver jobs, music recording sessions & audio books… to telephone systems & educational software – Airlift Productions & I have delivered. Time and time again. From the last century to this one.
So go ahead, tap the 21st-century-brakes for just a second, hit the pause button on the DVR box, and visit the Airlift Productions~Ziants Testimonialpage here – when YOU are ready, 24-7-365 – and we’ll be there for you!
“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 hugeAirlift 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.”
The only problem with dogs is … that they don’t live forever!
And spelled either frontwards or backwards … Dog is still man’s best friend.
The Shadeaux, with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal dogs, came to the Airlift Productions Studios and became our official mascot and ‘talent herder’ over Christmas 2006.
Near as we can tell, he’s twelve years old today and, truth be known, he picked us out at the SPCA that day. Kind of like the Ziants boyz – a mutt; part German Shepherd, part Chow, part Border Collie … and all Love.
No, this is not his obituary (and even he’d appreciate the humor that the word ‘bitch’ is in that word), it’s more like a mid-life opus and testament to his otherworldly powers.
After all, the recording process can be somewhat intimidating to some, and capturing a stellar on-mic performance can feel a bit daunting at times – even to the pro!
And the Shadeaux has an uncanny way of throwing a ‘chill-out’ factor into the entire equation.
Little Quvenzhane Wallis (of ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ fame) wanted to take him home with her (no chance), and James Carville’s ‘missus’ – Mary Matalin – could hardly tear herself away to get back to work on her audio book.
With a woof, a lick, and an appreciative tail wag – coupled with more fur than Liz Taylor at a pre-PETA-days holiday bash – the Shadeaux has an amazing talent for making anyone feel comfortable, relaxed and right at home.
And when trying to record a stunning on-mic, on-point performance … what more could you ask for?
Except maybe that he’d live forever.
Airlift Productions … where EVERY day is ‘Take Your Doggie to Work Day’… Airlift Mike with his fave, furry four-footed friend – and uncharacteristically shy, The Shadeaux
“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” ~ Will Rogers
“I care not for a man’s religion whose dog & cat are not the better for it.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.” ~ Andy Rooney
“Airlift Mike was a saint, and ridiculously patient and supportive (and helpful!!) for this audio book virgin. In another environment, without the support, and with pressure to perform “right”, I probably would have completely fallen apart. So the MVP for this getting done goes 100% to Mike and the chilled outenvironment he’s cultivated…personally and within his studio.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to be able to get this audio book out to you guys!! As challenging as it all was, the end result, I think, is amazing!
Once again, a big heartfelt thanks to Mike and the years of expertise he brought to this project to ensure I sounded my very best. If you’re ever in Nola and need the best audio dude, and the best dude dude, holler at my man Mike withwww.airliftproductions.com
Thanks for the great week my friend! :)”
— SEAN O’SHEA, Los Angeles-based Dog Trainer & AudioBook Producer
Short story longer, I used to wake up in a cold sweat on the waterbed (hey, it was the 1980s) in the middle of the night wondering where I’d be when I reached age 40, to say nothing of 50 or 60 if I stayed on my current path.
So, my Q-93 partner in crimeRon Chatman and I were sitting around the bar at Bert’s, a bar on the first floor of a now-imploded and long-gone hotel on Canal Street having a few, comparing battle scars and musing about our collective futures.
I grabbed a bar napkin and started doodling, sketching, dreaming … and came up with the first crude version of the Airlift Productions logo.
Airlift – as in ‘to the rescue’, with all it’s heroic connotations. If all radio & TV commercials are indeed sent over the air, “let me give your Air a Lift!” Alphabetical listings being what they are, I’d also be listed first in all the recording studio listings.
Plus, I somehow knew all those years ago that the studio would be involved in projects bigger and loftier than just commercials, so it just had to be Airlift ‘Productions’. I knew that I was on to something.
The year was 1984.
After hiring local artist Harrel Grey to fine-tune my crude bar napkin logo rendering, I trademarked it with Baton Rouge officials, got my first bonafide free-lance account with WGNO-TV/Tribune Broadcasting – and was off to the races.
Today, in 2018, if one were to do an internet search with just those two words ‘airlift productions‘ in a search engine – with no qualifiers, no country or state, nothing else – out of over several million possibilities worldwide and worldwide-web-wise … there I am.
Hard to believe that as I write these words it’s well over thirty years later, but that’s what the calendar tells me.
Meanwhile, the technology, the recording gear & the delivery methods somehow grew into my dream & vision.
And the jobs? Well, Airlift Productions has today recorded and delivered audio all around the world – literally!
“Mike, I can’t thank you enough for the great job you did coaching me through the audio recording of my new book, ‘Back in the Game!’ Since this was the first book I’ve ever written (and recorded), it was all new territory for me. You made the entire process go very smoothly, and I am incredibly happy with the final product.
I appreciate all you did to bring this book to life. You know you are really good when both James Carville and I are in complete agreement that you are great to work with!!” – CONGRESSMAN STEVE SCALISE
If you ever recorded at or visited or got silly during Friday ‘happy hours’ at the now-the-stuff-of-legend Airlift Productions Iberville Street location … have you ever paused to consider what it took to create that remarkable space?
It’s not too bold a statement to say that my blood is quite literally in the mortar that holds the very bricks in this wall together! For though I am not a mason or a brick layer, I certainly played one in 1989 on Iberville Street.
With the help of just one other guy (Joe Delery now works in the crime division of the NOPD), I also pounded the nails, hung & floated sheet rock, packed insulation, laid carpet, and wired the entire facility. Whew!
And a whole host of radio rebels, stand-up comics, misfits, in-laws & outlaws!
The mantra through the entire construction stage was ‘Build it…and they will come!’ What a passion, what a studio… what a time!
** A “Mike McCann” classic VoiceOver/Production Demo from the 90s, all produced on Iberville with R-R tape – for NOLA clients like WVUE-TV, Pat O’Brien’s, Times-Picayune, etc. ***
But as much as I loved this location, Iberville street, the elevator, my Endymion parties, and having Venezia’s Italian food, Angelo Brocato’s, Mandina’s & Liuzza’s but a block or two walk away … I flooded twice at this location – and this was well before Mother Katrina came to town!
So, I ran with my prophetic visions and in early 2001 moved the entire Airlift Productions business well out of the flood plain and to the high ground just the other side of the now-infamous breached 17th Street Canal . To start over.
But Airlift on Pomona – along with its construction & marketing challenges – is the story for another blog and another time.
“Working with Airlift Mike in NOLA was an utter pleasure. I was in town for business for a month and needed to maintain my audiobook recording schedule. Mike was accommodating and a pure professional. He mastered the punch and roll technique in 24 hours to be ready for our first session, and over the course of the month we laid down 5 books and a number of auditions. His studio sounds great. The vibe & atmosphere can’t be beat. You’d be hard pressed to find a better recording studio in the southeast – no matter what your needs. I wish I could have stayed!” ~ AMY LANDON, Los Angeles-based Actress & Ultra-busy AudioBook Narrator
The short answer? All three! The long answer? How much time do you have? Too many questions? Oops, another question…
To begin with, all sound travels in waves. That’s analog. As I speak, my voice travels from my larynx to your ear as a wave form. Now, in capturing said wave form in a recording device or computer for editing and storage, it is still considered and called a wave form, but then it’s digital. Science.
But making MAGIC with that wave form is quite another thing altogether. Art.
Now, creating an environment, a creative space, a ‘vibe’, a place to make that audio magic – that audio alchemy – possible is yet another story completely.
First off, the entire Airlift Productions air space is completely out-of-square with no parallel walls, and the studio ceiling rises from front to back.
It’s built like the ancient Greeks built the amphitheater – sound waves naturally propagate from the near-field reference monitors in the front across the room to the back wall.
The Airlift Studios control room widens from about 6 feet at the front … to nearly 12 feet at the back. A critical listening space should never be constructed with parallel walls, ceiling & floor, as this creates standing waves, slap-back echoes and assorted audio headaches.
Room treatment, acoustic foam, carpeting on the walls, natural daylight filtered through stained glass, and dimmer-controlled mood lighting further enhance artist & engineer comfort & creativity through the entire recording process.
Yes, Art & Science get it on at Airlift Productions! To create MAGIC.
Purpose-designed for comfort, creativity & breath-taking sound, Airlift has delivered the goods since 1984 … from local to global with style!
From broadcast to podcast, big screen to small. From simple voice over tracks to full band or artist CD projects, test-drive your first session today, from wherever you are … on the web at Airlift Productions.
“Weapons of Mass Production” ~ Airlift Productions, New Orleans
Airlift Mike, always as close as the mouse on your desktop or the cell in your pocket at #504.833.8450.
“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
The National Weather Service defines the “Eye” as the region of mostly calm weather at the center of strong tropical cyclones.
Metaphorically, the ever-changing media & technology would be the tropical cyclones/hurricanes, and Airlift Productions & I would be the ones whohave for over thirty years resided… calmly, persistent & steady, in the hurricane’s eye.
In 1984, the needs of my first full-time client – WGNO-TV/Tribune Broadcasting – gave birth to the Airlift Productions Studios.That very year Ronald Reagan sat in the Oval Office, the compact disc was brand new, and top-rated CBS affiliates WWL-TV & WWL radio here in New Orleans were owned by Loyola University (“World Wide Loyola”) and… the Catholic Church.
From the changing complexion of the White House to digital music distribution (and piracy), TV/radio deregulation and consolidation, and from Loyola’s WWL ownership to Gannett, Tegna & Entercom … my, how the media and technological winds have blown!
Meanwhile, through all the changes and through all the years, Airlift Productions and I have resided calmly and ever-persistent in the Hurricane’s Eye.
A recent Search Engine request for just two words “Airlift Productions” yielded the most remarkable result – in the Images section was an internet-search-generated montage of a Life lived in the Hurricane’s Eye…
There was every studio I’d ever built – from the closet at Rock Creek Apartments to Iberville to Pomona. There was Norman Robinson, Rich Lenz, Heath Allen, the Blue Angels, Morgus, Greg DiLeo, Sister Thecla, Quvenzhane Wallis, even James Carville’s feet on my ping pong table.
From radio commercials, TV voice-overs, music projects & audio books, to educational software, industrial training & safety videos, from cathode ray tubes to flat screens and broadcast to podcast – the Airlift Studios & I have shifted and tacked into the winds of change … while remaining calm & steady in the Hurricane’s Eye.
“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence & Determination alone are omnipotent.” ~ Coolidge/Ziants
*** Micheal Ziants AUDIO BOOK Demo ***
And the winds continue to blow! My grandfather John was born before the radio, my father Charlie was born before the television, and I was born before the internet & digital.
Well, whatever it is, you can rest assured that Airlift Productions and I will be there … in the Hurricane’s Eye.
“We’ve worked with Mike for almost 15 years, both as voice over and on-camera talent in more than 50 films. Not only is he a great guy and a super talent, but he has the coolest recording studio in the South.” ~ TIM WESTON, President TLW Productions, NOLA
What began just after the Civil War as a day of remembrance for our country’s war dead sure has morphed and changed since the time of Lincoln.
Today, Memorial Day seems forever tied to backyard barbecues, swimming pools, and appliance sales. Ironically, here in metro New Orleans, at stores on Veterans Memorial Boulevard.
Yes, the last Monday of every May has now become the unofficial start to America’s summer. As the true meaning becomes lost along with the ashes of yesterday’s cookout.
What needs to be remembered – and indeed commemorated on this day – is the Strength & Honor that drove America’s war dead down the path to becoming America’s war dead.
Thumbing through the pages of history it becomes very apparent. People come and go. Causes come and go. What is perceived as Right & Wrong comes and goes.
Strength & Honor are universal constants that do not.
You know, when Abe Lincoln was a little boy, you or I could have gone down to the French Market in New Orleans… and purchased Shaquille O’Neal! And, no, not to play on our basketball team.
What is Right and what is Wrong, indeed all man’s laws are founded and based on man’s myopia, his nearsightedness … on the ever-shifting sands of human perspective.
Universal Law, some would call Divine Law, works from another level altogether. And this is the level where Strength & Honor LIVE!
Strength & Honor do not recognize skin color, nationality, culture, time or space … or even a uniform.
From ancient Greece through the Roman Empire … from Britain’s mastery of the world’s oceans to America (England, Junior) and her not-so-civil war … the dead have piled-up in the countless billions!
Causes, Empires, Cultures, Countries and what is perceived as Right & Wrong have shifted with the winds of change down through all the centuries.
Strength & Honor have not.
America’s heralded General Patton once remarked that “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor bastard die for his country.”
On this Memorial Day weekend 2018 let’s you & I send up a prayer. A prayer to the Father, to what Napoleon Hill termed ‘Infinite Intelligence’, to remove ‘bastard’, ‘war’, ‘death’ and ‘country’ from this equation.
And let me raise a glass, possibly a leftover beer from your backyard barbecue, and propose a toast.