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.
Ya’ 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 2021… 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.
“I listened to a lot of voices to represent Detective Lt. Robert (Robbo) Davidson for our audiobook version of “The Evil I Have Seen” and none quite fit. At last, I did a search for a commanding, seasoned, slightly Southern voice — and pulled up Airlift Productions of NOLA. I clicked on Micheal’s sample narrations of “Murder in Coweta County” then James Patterson’s “The Chef,” and I was hooked. No one else would do.
I was surprisingly delighted after speaking with Micheal to learn, he would not agree to narrate and produce the audiobook until he read it. He wasn’t in it just for money — he would only partner on material he believed to be worthwhile.
It has been a delightful, rewarding experience and Robbo and I could not be more proud of the way he brought this book to life. He is the voice, the director and producer of the audio version of “The Evil I Have Seen.” I recommend him wholeheartedly! — P.J. JONES, AUTHOR of the out-now shocker, “The Evil I Have Seen”
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 change to Gannet/Tegna, and Entercom to Audacy – my, oh 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 collage 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, Deuce McAllister, Congressman Steve Scalise, Dr. Morgus, Rachel Wulff, Jamie Neumann, Sean O’Shea, Sister Thecla, even studio mascot The Shadeaux, the studio’s stained glass window and game room!
From radio commercials, TV voice-overs, music projects & audio books, to educational software, industrial training & safety videos, and 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
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.
Now, 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.
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 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!”
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!
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.
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
It’s kind of strange the way inspiration works. I was sitting at a bar that no longer exists in a hotel that no longer exists while dreaming of a business that didn’t yet exist … and it struck!
In my second year on Q-93 radio ( WQUE-FM, New Orleans ) as afternoon air personality Mike McCann, I was frustrated and, to be honest, somewhat frightened and more than a bit concerned.
After all, I would not have been at Q-93 had a format change not led to my being terminated/fired from my on-air job in Philadelphia! And wouldn’t have been in Philly had they not let the entire air staff go in Nashville! A similar story – station sale & format change – led to my exit from St. Louis.
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.
** Airlift Mike narrates James Patterson’s best-seller “The Chef”, now available on worldwide AudioBook platforms **
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, the late Harrel Grey to fine-tune my crude bar napkin logo rendering, I trademarked it with Baton Rouge officials, got my first bonafide freelance account – WGNO-TV/Tribune Broadcasting – and was off to the races.
Today, in 2021, 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
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.
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.
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.
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 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,
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
“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 out environment he’s cultivated…personally and within his studio… 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”
—- Los Angeles & NOLA-based Dog Trainer SEAN O’SHEA