All posts by Micheal

I am a Recording Artist and Studio Owner in New Orleans, Louisiana for over thirty years now. After a whirlwind radio career that took me through St. Louis, Nashville, Harrisburg & Philadelphia, I settled in New Orleans in 1983. VoiceOver work for TV & film, completely-produced radio ads, and audio book recording & production are specialties of the house, but my Airlift Productions Studio also plays in the music arena with artist CD projects and has become a go-to shop for Hollywood South. Look us up on the web at www.AirliftProductions.com, or connect with us at #1-800-210-WORD.

Airlift Productions Answers Chicken Versus Egg Conundrum

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Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Around the Airlift Productions Studios,  I still get into this one with my video production pals – when it comes down to audio versus video, which of the two is more powerful and packs the bigger punch?!?

I mean, what is all televison except radio… with pictures?  Which came first? And where are the more powerful emotional cues?  

You know, the ones that capture attention, motivate, inspire, scare … and drive someone to action?

Pause to consider, the very first sense that develops as the human develops within the mother’s womb is …. wait for it –  the sense of HEARING!  The growing infant HEARS the mother’s heartbeat and the rush of amniotic fluid, almost like ocean waves,  surrounding it’s ears.

The eyes are nowhere in the picture yet.

paragon-city-center-12Now, picture yourself in a movie theater. You are terrified by the motion picture – from b/w ‘Psycho’ in the ’60s to the latest flick about some camp counselor gone crazy chasing teens through the woods with an ax – and you can very simply close your eyes.

But you cannot close your ears!

The shrieks of terror, the ragged breathing, the sound effects, the dramatic music pulsing and pounding.  Even when all sounds disappear and come to a complete … heart-pounding … stop!

Interestingly, the Creator gave us eyelids… but He didn’t give us EAR-lids!

Now, talk to a hospice caregiver, and they’ll quickly tell you from experience that in the majority of cases the final sense to leave us at death – is the sense of hearing.

More to the point, in the case of television advertising, when an ad comes on, many are off to the bathroom or into the kitchen.  In this case, all the expensive video editing software and fancy visual zips and zaps are superfluous! They are not even there in the experience of the intended viewer.

The AUDIO portion of the ad, however, is still there – OUT LOUD for all to witness!

And since time immemorial, the story-telling tradition, as one generation passed legend and myth and bedtime stories down to the next, the entire presentation was aural – powerful, memorable and impact-full.

Sorry, video aces, but audio trumps video. It will always be AUDIO that drives the emotional train.

Airlift Productions, driving that emotional train from NEW Orleans …. since 1984.

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harlon miller“Airlift is THE place to go for a top quality demo. With Mike behind the board you are in very capable hands. His vast knowledge and command of all things audio blends with his laid-back fun environment to bring out the best in any voice.  Airlift Productions has the experience and all the tools necessary to make a voice-over reel that is on par with anything you would find in New York or LA!”

– – – HARLON MILLER, Voice-Over Actor

** Harlon’s Airlift-Mike-produced VoiceOver Demo **

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Airlift Productions – we’ll leave the mics hot… and the light on for you.

Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy & Digital Magic from New Orleans… since 1984  

Airlift Mike ~ Footprints In The Sands Of Time?

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Harrisburg Broadcasting: Images of America Book, written by Timothy P. Portzline … with Airlift Productions, John St. John, Micheal Ziants pics & stories

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. Respect 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, world religions 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!

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Airlift Productions Proprietor Micheal Ziants as John Saint John, in the WKBO, Harrisburg, PA studios, circa 1976

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.

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Airlift Productions Proprietor Micheal Ziants AKA John Saint John, featured in ‘Harrisburg Broadcasting’ History Book

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.

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Pre-MP3/Downloads – in the days of 45 rpm records – a WKBO Radio weekly music survey, charting record sales … with John Saint John

‘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.

The Cherokee have a sentiment and saying which states that each of us (as “human beings”) live as long as the last person who remembers us. 

So we’ll leave it all to the history books and workplace water cooler talk to make sense of my years in Pennsylvania’s capitol city. Footprints…or skid marks.  Either way, I wouldn’t change a thing or trade a day. 

In the meantime, the mics are hot and the creative juices are still flowing … in NOLA …  every day … at AirliftProductions.com 

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discovery_channel_logo“Micheal Ziants and Airlift Productions offer an excellent and affordable option for VoiceOver & Recording.” — Michael Morris, Head of Post-Production, Discovery Studios, Hollywood, California

Have You Heard About the Big One That Got Away?

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“Gator” (Wakeman Linscomb) & Airlift Productions Proprietor “Mike McCann”, the Q-93 Wake-Up Krewe, entertaining N’awlins in 1989, and laying-down tracks at Airlift Productions on Iberville

It happened again last night. 

Even though I haven’t worked LIVE on the radio this century, the dreams persist.

I’m on-air in a control room in the 1970s or ’80s, or more to the point, locked-OUT of the control room… records are running out… I can’t find the right commercials… DEAD AIR!

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a full-page ad in Sunday’s Times-Picayune promoting WQUE’s Mike McCann

Town-to-town, packing, unpacking…. making new friends, saying goodbye to old friends… up & down the radio dial… AM, FM… ego trips, bad trips… but through it all —- 

Radio was without question the most fun I ever had with my clothes on!

And the people and towns it brought into my life informed my life – and changed it. { Cue the flashback harp music glissando …}

It was 1989, and after many years freelancing, I was ‘seduced back to the dark side of the force’… and re-entered radio for a brief while here in New Orleans at WQUE-FM/Q-93 as one half of a morning team, partnered with this character called ‘the Gator’.

While we only lasted a short while as a team on-air, there was magic! At least enough to catch the interest of an agent. An agent who then parlayed our airchecks into a LIVE On-Air three-day audition at Boston’s top-rated WZOU over Christmas of 1989!

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(L-R) Micheal Ziants (Mike McCann), Comedian/Actor Sinbad, Gator on-air at Q-93 New Orleans in the Fall of 1989

Steve Rivers, program director at the time, flew the Gator and me into Boston, put us up at the Boston Harbor Hotel (pretty swanky) and we actually woke up the city of Boston, Mass for three mornings that winter!

I’m at a loss for words to explain how vibrantly thrilling and exciting this whole process was. Working LIVE on-air, walking a tightrope without a net ( no ‘take two’ as is done in a recording studio ), in a strange town … and all in the days before the internet & the world wide web … you know, when radio was really radio! Wow!

Listen to just some of the madness, excitement and fun of this on-air audition at this monster of a radio station here —

**** Gator & McCann  On-Air @ WZOU-Boston 12-14-89 ***

The absolutely precious WZOU "Zoo-Cat" logo - complete with headphones, as it appeared on bumper stickers & T-Shirts in 1989
The absolutely precious WZOU “Zoo-Cat” logo – complete with headphones – as it appeared on bumper stickers & T-Shirts in 1989

Now, to ‘cut to the chase’, we were not hired at WZOU. After all was said and done – and believe me, much was said and done – management decided that our act would not fit-in in Boston … and we flew back to New Orleans without a contract.

Funny the way life works. When I think how differently my life would have turned out had we gotten this job it makes my head spin.  Me, a Yankee again? No Airlift Productions? Erase my over thirty years of contributions to New Orleans media & history? I think not.

But was it ever fun!  And still makes for quite the story over beers with the guys, or when we sit around comparing battle scars in the radio wars … or, like the fishermen here in Sportsman’s Paradise – talking about the big one … that got away.

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Nathan J. Robinson, while recording at Airlift Productions, October 2019

“Mike is a master of his craft, a true audio artisan. The long days I spent recording my audio book with him were a joy. First and foremost, he is a meticulous professional who wants to make sure that the production achieves the best possible quality. Because of his extensive background as a voice actor, he can coach you in exactly how to make something sound serious, credible, and powerful.

And because he built the whole studio himself, he knows how to get the most out of his equipment and produce exceptional recordings. But more than that, Mike is not just a skilled producer. He’s a great guy, with a tranquil life philosophy that will put you at ease and make you feel comfortable enough to give your best effort. He knows how to make you feel good, from the mood lighting to his calming presence in your headphones. He’s funny, too, and has lots of great stories from his long career in radio.

I truly had a blast working with Mike and will write another book just to do a new audio book with him.” — NATHAN J. ROBINSON, Editor in chief of Current Affairs magazine and author of Why You Should Be A Socialist.

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from New Orleans since 1984

Memorial Day Musings on Strength & Honor

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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.  Yes, appliance sales. Ironically, here in metro New Orleans, at stores on Veterans Memorial Boulevard.
 
MemorialCookoutYes, 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.
Memorial Day has its roots in the late 1860s, shortly after the death of President Abraham Lincoln.
 
But ya know, when Abe was a little boy, you or I could have gone down to the French Market here 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.
 
20120531-bbqday1Universal 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 2021 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.
A toast – To Strength & Honor!
 
~ With respect & prayers from the new Jer-USA-lem, New Orleans,
     
    Micheal G. Ziants
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Airlift Productions ~ a Catalyst for Positive Change since 1984
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“Mike, thank you for 25 years of successfully teaching Algebra to children of color and students who were living in poverty. They aren’t living in poverty anymore thanks to you and the mathematical skills you gave them. They are doctors, engineers and scientists today.” ~ the late John R. Lee, Founder of the I CAN Learn Mathematics E-Learning System

If You Knew Pomona Like I Know Pomona…

Naples, Italy statue to the Roman Goddess Pomona

(To be sung) As the old tune about Susie goes, “She’s Oh, Oh, Oh what a gal!”

Pomona may be just another street to neighbors & friends here just outside New Orleans, but to me it’s a lot, lot more.

After flooding at the Iberville Street Airlift Productions location TWICE through my 1989-2001 stay, just off Carrollton & Canal, I re-located the whole biz to suburban Metairie well outside the ‘bowl’ that is Orleans parish in March 2001.

Airlift Podcasting session selfie, taken by Jefferson Parish Councilman-At-Large SCOTT WALKER, along with JULIE COURET

Pomona sits on Metairie ridge in Jefferson Parish, naturally above the flood plain and, ironically, not even a mile from the now-infamous 17th Street Canal which breached and gave America the historical tragedy known as “Katrina”.

Furthermore, the Bonnabel subdivision here in Metairie seems somewhat preoccupied with the Holy (or otherwise) Roman Empire.

Really.

I routinely take morning walks past streets named “Nero”, “Claudius”, and “Feronia”. Go figure.

Punchline?

Rome’s mythological muse & sweetheart Pomona

Well, unbeknownst to most of my neighbors and friends here in the ‘hood, Pomona is the ancient Roman mythological goddess of fruitful abundance! 

Not that she gets that much attention here in this hectic, frantic-paced #MeToo generation, but check out her Wikipedia page here.

Living, loving, playing, and, yes, “working”/recording from Pomona for what is now 20 years, and having found a success beyond my wildest dreams, I’d have to say that perhaps the Romans were onto something here.

Fruitful abundance?

Airlift Productions Pomona Game Room, right next to the studio doors

Well, lemme see here, through my tour of duty on Pomona, I’ve seen in/out the studio doors… Chef John Besh, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Dr. Morgus (the Magnificent), Necar Zadegan, Ronnie Lamarque, James Carville, Mary Matalin, Steve Scalise, Deuce McAllister, Quvenzhane Wallis, Alden Ehrenreich, Toby Kebbell, Morris Bart, Lee Zurik, Greg DiLeo, Rich Lenz, Norman Robinson, Rachel Wulff, Camille Whitworth, Heath Allen,  Troy Mutter, “Miss Linda” Mintz, Theresa Andersson, Stacy Head, John “Spud” McConnell, Edoardo Ballerini, Bo “Boots” Walker, Ed Clancy, Jamie Neumann, Scott Walker, the Krewe of Nyx, Bradley Edelman, Mike Weldon,  Anne Gisleson, David Menasche, Mike Church, Nathan Ales, P.H. Fred, John R. Lee, and, well, even some folks you may have heard of.  (I know, cheeky, huh? But try Googling just a few of these names…)

And from the high ground on Pomona, I’ve produced work that encompasses most all media – from Radio spots, TV VoiceOvers, Educational Software, Radio Imaging, Animation VO, Website Explainers, Industrial Narrations & Podcasts… to Phone Messages-on-Hold, CD-ROMs, and AudioBooks.

          ** Airlift Mike narrates “Murder In Coweta County” for Pelican **

Furthermore, I’ve been blessed to have my AudioBook recording efforts include work with the biggest & best-selling AudioBook producers on Earth – Penguin, Hachette, Recorded Books, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Blackstone, Harper, Listen-Up & Random House.

Rubens’ artwork depicting Pomona displaying her, well, uh, “fruits”

So, while I indeed thank the One True Living God for the inspiration and effort to have made the move to Pomona all those years ago… let’s not leave the old gal herself out.

For all dat voodoo that you do… Thanks, Pomona!

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Airlift Mike Onstage with the late Sid Noel at NOLA’s Orpheum Theater, Halloween 2019

“Dr. Ziants:

My dear colleague, it was a true delight to visit and work with you in your digital laboratory. I somewhat envy your remarkable equipment, which far exceeds anything we can afford here in the old city ice house. Your audio production facilities are second to none, and I thank you again for the excellent recordings you produced for the Momus A. Morgus Institute. — Momus” ** A tested-by-time Testimonial from Dr. Morgus (aka – the late Sid Noel Rideau) direct from the old city ice house to the Airlift digital lab via email.

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Airlift Productions – we’ll leave the mics hot… and the light on for you.

Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from NOLA since 1984.

My New Pen Pal & An Airlift To Australia… For Shell Oil

Aussie VoiceOver Talent Rhiannon Boulger records Safety Video for Shell Oil at Airlift Productions NOLA

The call came into the Airlift Productions Studios from Chicago, Illinois with a rather unique request.

Would I be available to help with a safety training project for Shell Oil concerns – in Melbourne, Australia?

Well, color me intrigued.

Stellar VoiceOver talent RHIANNON BOULGER operates as the safety training voice for Shell Oil concerns in Australia and, as the fates would have it, she was currently in the states along with her fiancé Jae  visiting New Orleans for the week.

Enter Airlift Productions & Airlift Mike.

The VO scripts were then emailed to both Rhiannon and me for the recording session. Cool!

So, Rhiannon & hubby-to-be Jae showed up via an Uber lift from the downtown Sheraton on-time, and we went to work.

Rhiannon rocks the mic to train Shell Oil employees ‘down under’ at Airlift Productions NOLA 

We phone-patched the entire session with  Jennifer at Accenture-Chicago for long distance direction & coaching.

The session went as smoothly as water off a kangaroo’s back in the outback! We nailed all four scripts, and I had the wav files on their way via an FTP site to the edit bays in Chicago for post-production within the hour.

For use at Shell Oil’s facility  ~ in Melbourne, Australia!

I teased Rhiannon throughout the session that I’d done scores of plant safety video narrations through the years, but never one that sounded so… ah, saucy.

Give a listen to just a taste of what went down at the Airlift mics, and since it IS New Orleans, we’ll deal with drugs & alcohol, here.

~ Rhiannon entertains our ‘fighting troops’ down under at Shell ~

Ah-h, the wonders of modern technology.

To have conducted a session like this and in this manner when I began the Airlift Productions Studios back in the day – the 1980s – would have been considered science fiction, unbelievable, and inconceivable.

Today in 2021… it’s par for the course. 

So pardon me, as I reach back in my bag for a nine-iron…and catch the next phone call.

Who knows? Could be my new Australian pen pal and recording gal pal from Melbourne.

Great job, Rhi! I really enjoyed working with you. And keep doin’ that voodoo that you do so well.

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Rhiannon Boulger & Airlift Mike at the Airlift Studios NOLA 

“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, VO Artist, Melbourne, Australia

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** Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy & Digital Magic from NOLA since 1984 **

Judah Ben-Hur’s Messala Drops The Mic – With Airlift Mike

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Ben-Hur Star Toby Kebbell records national TV Sony Tablet Commercial VoiceOvers at Airlift Productions NOLA

I didn’t know quite what to expect the morning TOBY KEBBELL showed up at my Airlift Productions Studios to record VoiceOver for Sony Corporation and it’s new Xperia Z tablet.

“Ben-Hur 2016” wasn’t even on the drawing boards yet,  he was in New Orleans to film “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, and tagged by Tag-Europe (a huge London-based ad agency) as the voice for Sony Products, he needed a studio to record a few V-O patches.

The UK's TOBY KEBBELL drops the mic - with Airlift Mike, on behalf of Sony
The UK’s TOBY KEBBELL drops the mic – with Airlift Mike, on behalf of Sony

So, Toby and his brother arrived at Airlift that morning … Toby was unshaven, in flip-flops & cargo shorts – hey, it WAS for a VoiceOver session, after all; at 6’1″, we stood eye-to-eye – I set-up the phone-patch to connect us with Europe and we went to work.

As the fates would have it, in the UK the letter ‘Z’ is pronounced ‘Zed’, and in order to introduce this new tablet here in the states, the tag lines had to be re-recorded with the Yank’s sound.

Toby talks for Sony on the Airlift microphones like this…

The tracks were coached and directed by Louise at Tag, with her agency contact for Sony piggy-backed in on the call – from Tokyo!

I then relayed the wav files via an FTP site into the computers at the editing bays in London, England and the finished commercial  – along with some help from David Bowie – appeared here in the United States like this…

And I love the exchange as he exited the studios that day. With Ziants being my last name, I’ve got a welcome mat at the front door with a ‘Z’ on it. Toby pointed it out and chuckled at the irony as he headed back to the rent-a-car.

Toby Kebbell all decked-out for the premiere
Toby Kebbell all decked-out for the premiere

The girls (or ‘birds’ as they call them there) in the UK are just gaga over this dude, and the ladies in on the phone-patch session that morning echoed that excitement.

Studly. Easy on the eyes. Soft-spoken. Ultra talented.

But from his appearance as Doctor Doom in the ill-fated “Fantastic Four” to the apparent miscues, in the eyes of some critics, with “Ben-Hur 2016”, I just wish Toby could find his footing in a true star-making role, one that could seriously catapult him into the stratosphere.

In the meantime, I’ll be the one catching Kebbell’s magic via Netflix on the flat screen in the den, remembering my morning recording Toby before his days with Judah Ben-Hur,  popcorn in-hand, smiling – and shaking the dust off my sandals.

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TobyRickettsVoiceOverAirliftProductionsNOLA“Working on the road can be a pain for voice artists – I was so glad to find Airlift studios on my travels, just outside NOLA CBD! What a beautiful, cozy, and quiet space to work in. Micheal was an absolute pleasure to work with, being 100% professional and 100% nice guy! If I’m ever in the Big Easy again, I’ll be sure to stop in and see Mike at Airlift Productions.” ~ TOBY RICKETTS, Award-Winning, World-Class, New Zealand-based VoiceOver Talent

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Airlift Productions ~ Where the warmth of analogue lives … and the lightning speed of digital delivers!

Airlift Mike Runs Off To Join The Circus & The Greatest Show On Earth

Airlift Mike (as John Saint John) personal certificate proclaiming him an "Elephant Equestrian Extraordinaire" in the Greatest Show on Earth
Airlift Mike (as John Saint John) personal certificate proclaiming him an “Elephant Equestrian Extraordinaire” in the Greatest Show on Earth

While here in 2021 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.

Gunther Gebel-Williams showing-off! Hey, it's his JOB.
Gunther Gebel-Williams showing-off! Hey, it’s his JOB.

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 shouted to me, “John, let me help you UP”

John Saint John high atop the largest elephant in the Greatest Show on Earth
John Saint John high atop the largest elephant in the Greatest Show on Earth

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.

Lou Jacobs, Dean of Clowns for over 60 years with Ringling Brothers
Lou Jacobs, Dean of Clowns for over 60 years with Ringling Brothers

Inside this trailer I was introduced to Lou Jacobs. Now at this point Lou was the Dean of Clowns. Imagine, he performed with Ringling Brothers for over 60 years, and is the guy credited with inventing the “Clown Car”.

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!

MichealZiantsAsRinglingBrosClownHersheyPa1978
Micheal Ziants all ‘tricked-out’ as a Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey ‘Clown for a Day’, Hershey Park Arena, May 1978

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!

MichealZiantsRinglingBrosCircusParadeHersheyPaMay1978Heading 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.

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mike church“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

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy & Digital Magic from New Orleans since 1984 

New Orleans Authors, Audio Books… And The Hereafter

In NBC’s raucous 1960s LAUGH-IN, Arte Johnson, as “the dirty old man” Tyronne Horneigh, would sidle up to Ruth Buzzi’s frumpy, old lady character on the park bench and ask her if she believed in “The Hereafter”.

When told, “Sure!” he’d retort through lecherous laughter, “Well, I guess you know what I’m here after!”

Jokes aside, being human, as we all make that journey from womb to tomb, sperm to worm, maternity ward to crematorium … we all wrestle with this issue… THE HEREAFTER.

The issue of existential angst.

But none more skillfully than Ms. ANNE GISLESON.

AnneGislesonRecordsTheFutilitariansAtAirliftProductionsNOLA
New Orleans Author ANNE GISLESON records her audio book at Airlift Productions NOLA

Anne has dealt with more grief, heartache, pain & loss than anyone should have to deal with in one lifetime, and yet found her release – and relief – in the keyboard of her computer.

A gifted writer, Anne today divides her time between teaching creative writing at our NOCCA (New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts), raising Silas & Otto, and caring for her ultra-cool & talented Hollywood South set painter/artist & husband Brad.

I didn’t even know Anne when first hired for this job.

I sure do now.

Contracted by Hachette Audio Books in NYC, together with the Listen Up Audio Book krewe in Atlanta, it fell upon me to work with Anne, record her, and give LIFE to “THE FUTILITARIANS”.

Oh. My. God.

Opening up the pdf from New York on the iPad, it quickly became apparent what I’d signed-on for.

Suicides. Yes, two. The twins. The babies of the family. Cemeteries. Bourbon Street. Oncology wards. Father’s death. Hurricane Katrina. And Plato?

You see, what Anne, Brad & friends had done to survive through all the pain and loss was to form a club. The Futilitarians.

Sub-titled, “Our year of Thinking, Drinking, Grieving, and Reading.”

Forming what amounted to a 21st century, old-fashioned reading club, they bonded through weekly readings of Tolstoy, Kafka, Sartre,  & Kirkegaard.

Each week, comparing notes and discussing what they’d each gleaned from their studies… over wine, scotch, and other libations.

Group therapy. Without a lettered shrink to assist.

So, day-by-day, through the third week of July 2017, Anne & I, together with Listen Up’s director Jennifer Nittoso via the phone-patch, doggedly plowed through painful story after story, chapter after chapter.

Available now, from Hachette Audio/Listen Up, sample a small excerpt from Chapter 3 here ….

** Anne Gisleson reads from Chapter 3 of “The Futilitarians”

Well, light, frothy summertime reading/listening at the beach this ain’t.

But for those of us who wrestle, perhaps in those early morning pre-dawn hours staring at the ceiling, with those “Why are we here? Where do we go when we’re gone?” issues ….

This one is an exceptionally essential existential must!

And, Anne, next time I catch you around the bar at the Napoleon House in the Quarter, the Johnny Walker’s on me.

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“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

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Airlift Productions ~ Telling America’s Greatest Stories from New Orleans, since 1984