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
Before John Saint John, before Mike McCann and even before New Orleans… decades before Airlift Productions, there was the discus.
The Discus Throw Event in Track & Field marks the first time that I ever proved to myself beyond the shadow of a doubt that I could do ANYTHING I wanted in life – IF I wanted it badly enough, applied myself, and focused ALL my talents and efforts.
I’ve often been asked through all these years and all these homes and all these recording studios – about the ever-present discus thrower, Myron’s classic Greek statue – The Discobolus.
Some homophobes have actually implied – or even come right out and said – that I must be “gay” to have some statue of a naked dude so prominently displayed in my Airlift Productions Studios.
Here’s the REAL story ….
Growing up as the middle child of five, with brothers Tommy & John, who were the true athletes of the family (basketball stars both, brother Steve’s star would rise later), my acting & musical talents often took the “backseat” in the eyes of my father and, at age 15, I was committed toprovingthat I could “measure-up” and “man-up”!
So, it was the discus that caught my eye. And all my attention.
I built a gym in the basement and went after it. Dumbbells and barbells rang and clanged late into the night.
I studied film (yes, 8mm film) of the great ones – Al Oerter, Jay Silvester, Ludvik Danek (look these guys up) – and perfected my throwing form and style.
Heck, I even almost ended up in the hospital, or maybe even dead, when at one track meet in the spring of 1970, some dude actually threw one INTO MY HEAD!
My mother Phyllis would later laughingly joke, “Oh, maybe that’s what’s wrong with Mike!”
But … I just kept at it. With. Dogged. Persistence. Day. After. Day. Week. After. Week.
I even poured the concrete in a vacant lot by the family home and built my own practice circle.
You know, real ‘Home Work’.
Like I said, I wanted it badly. I applied myself. I focused all my talents and efforts.
So, how did it all come out?
Well, the regulation high school discus weighs-in at 3 pounds-9 ounces, and competition models are made of wood and steel.
I placed 3rd-out-of-18 High Schools in the W.P.I.A.L. (Western PA Interscholastic Athletic League). And went on to set the Northwestern High School Discus Record in 1970 with a toss of 149 feet & 11 inches – that’s half a regulation football field!
My record stood unmatched, untouched and unbroken for 10 years.
No, I never got the cheers and accolades that accompanied my brothers’ pulse-pounding, jam-packed Shadyside & Northwestern High School basketball games; andPapa Charlie never did get a chance to make it out to catch me in action.
But I sure got something else.
The self-satisfied smile as week-after-week I won the discus event. And the knowledge that my mind & spirit had showed my flesh who was the boss.
You see, in metaphysical circles today much is made of the fact that the human mind – sort of like a rubber band – once stretched to a new idea … never quite returns to its original shape.
Mine never has.
And after graduation that year, another crazy passion entered my life – RADIO!
As yours truly, Airlift Mike Ziants, went from hurling discs … to spinning them … on turntables.
And New Orleans, Louisiana wasn’t even on the kid’s radar. Yet.
But that “discus dude”, Myron’s Discobolus, remains to this day in the Airlift Studios as an ever-present reminder that I can accomplish anything in the world that I want to – if I just put my mind to it.
“No recording studio I have worked with has given such personal attention toward perfecting the ‘science of sound’ than Airlift Productions in the hands of Micheal Ziants. I thank him for the many voice-overs and sound effects he produced for my syndicated television shows “MORGUS PRESENTS”!
Though we all came from the same mom & dad and were raised under the same roof all those years, we couldn’t have turned out more differently. Or did we?
This Pennsylvania band of brothers – the Ziants Boyz – sure have cut wildly & widely different paths in life. From the coal mines of West Virginia and Ohio to major American radio stations and newspapers, Phyllis & Charlie’s little boys have sure left their mark.
While John & Tommy took it to the mines, Steve & I went the journalism & broadcasting routes. I guess even as kids we didn’t like to get our hands too dirty.
Today, I’m so proud of brother Steve because he is a published author. In addition to his duties as the Page Designer for the sports section at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, you’ll also find his genius & talents for sale on amazon.com.
Born to PA parents, a pitcher on the Kent State baseball team, and a rabid wordsmith and writer, it’s not too bold a statement to say that this was the book Steve was born to write – with his blood, not ink!
According to that wacky amazon crowd, there are “only 10 left in stock” so order soon, grab it for your Kindle, or get a good old-fashioned paperback, right here – Steve Ziants Book on Amazon.com.
Oh yeah, and tell ’em that one proud brother ~ brother Mike at Airlift in NOLA ~ way down yonder in new oileenz sent ‘ya.
Steve Ziants’ 1st literary outing, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
** originally written & published January 13th, 2016 **
I only ever got into one real fight in my life. You know, a real knock-down, drag-out fist fight. It was 1960s Shadyside, Ohio, I was the new kid in town and it was one of those classic ‘Your mama wears combat boots’, defending-your-mother’s-honor kind of fights.
Now, in 2016, this past Monday night, that same mother gave UP the fight.
Yeah, leave it to Mama Z to decide to drop her body and move on from this world at roughly the same time as the planet’s most notorious shape-shifter, rock icon David Bowie was doing the same an ocean away.
Bowie got all the headlines. Except here.
Born in the days before the Great Depression, in 1925 Johnstown, PA, Phyllis Ziants pursued a nursing degree at Pitt … and a certain young man from the neighboring coal town of Windber.
Who knew when Charlie & Phyllis went on that first date at the roller skating rink all those years ago what was to come? Oh, what a tangled web we weave when at first we practice to conceive.
Their union yielded five kids – Linda, John, Mike, Tom, and Steve.
I’m sure we never crossed their minds as they skated around to the refrains of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” that night – it was their song – the one pop carried with him off to war —
“And now the purple dusk of twilight time Steals across the meadows of my heart High up in the sky the little stars climb Always reminding me that we’re apart…”
Wars end, as wars sometimes do, Charlie returned to his Phyllis, they got married in 1947 and began the odyssey.
Together with her husband, she moved the Tribe of Ziants countless times across state lines to new homes, new churches, new schools, new doctors, seemingly every other year.
From Pennsylvania to Florida, then on to Ohio, back to Pennsylvania, then back to Ohio, Phyllis kept a steady hand on the wheel, kept us all fed, and kept us all occupied (in the days before digital) with music lessons, ping-pong, and card games.
She loved “Kings On the Corner”.
Her nursing degree sure came in handy, as she tended to every wound life could inflict – lost jobs, unemployment, hospitalizations, broken hearts, divorces – and was always there with advice, consolation and compassion.
Don’t get me wrong, like all humans, she had her quirks … boy, could she talk (seemingly endlessly at times, even derailing her own train of thought), tended to fall asleep in front of the TV (narcolepsy?), and (no doubt a skill cultivated through years of corralling five rambunctious kids) could be quite the ‘control freak’.
Hey, it was all part of her unmistakable charm.
After pop’s passing in 1996, she sold the family home and downsized to her condo, then to the nursing home, and then this past week to hospice care … and now, there is no more ‘then’.
I once comforted my boy Ben-Jam after his first visit to a funeral home with the thought that the body after death is but a fingerprint that the soul leaves behind.
What a gal. What a fingerprint.
And from the coal mines of West Virginia and Ohio, to the newspaper at Pittsburgh, to the recording studios of N’awlins … this woman’s fingerprints are everywhere.
Now, it’s eternal.
Much love, kisses, prayers & peace, mother dear.
You’re still the first one I think of whenever I fall down and go boom.