"Tell Me More" with Tom Shadyac, the Ace Ventura director-turned-philanthropist's new KWAM radio show, goes live in one minute.
Shadyac is searching around the floor for a black University of Memphis baseball cap. "It helps keep the headphones on," he says.
Eureka! The hat is at his feet. He hurries and buries his long, curly, salt-and-pepper hair beneath it — bulky, black headphones covering his ears. "30 seconds, T," Shadyac's manager and co-host Harold Mintz says through his lip-hiding mustache (The last time he shaved was for his grandfather's funeral almost 40 years ago.).
I wrap headphones around my head, and, adjacent to Shadyac and Mintz, listen along to the dwindling seconds of a syndicated newscast. The anchor comments on the GOP's criticism of President Barack Obama's first-time U.S. mosque visit. "Can you believe that?" Shadyac says as he looks to Mintz and the handful of University of Memphis students gathered in the room.
They are writing questions about their inner-struggles on the back of notecards. Shadyac will review these and answer them on the show, which is loosely structured and centers on open-ended dialogue.
Mintz raises his hand. His pinky falls. His thumb follows. Then it's his ring finger and middle finger. His index folds back into his palm. We're live.
"We are in Soulsville," Shadyac says into the microphone, an appreciative smile on his face. "A beautiful, challenged community in Memphis, Tennessee. Go ahead. Let's hear some music. This song is "There's So Much Energy in Us" [by Cloud Cult]. It's a perfect song to set the show off. There is so much energy in us, and I think some of it is squandered in the news stories we heard coming on air."
If he practices a religion these days, Shadyac says it's listening. In 2007, he suffered from post-concussion syndrome following a bicycling accident. The mishap led him to give away much of his wealth and realign his priorities. His 2001 documentary I Am asked the question: "What's wrong with the world, and what can we do about it?"
His former Sirius XM radio show "One Big Couch" continued that dialogue with guests and listeners. But after relocating from Malibu, California, to Memphis, Shadyac localized the conversation with a shift to AM radio. He aims to transform the radio paradigm by becoming the listener.
"All learning happens from listening," Shadyac says. "I think very few people today are really listening. We want to tell each other things rather than be vulnerable and open up to learning."
When I expressed interest in writing about the show, Shadyac pointed to his guests across the table — students from his U of M Storytelling and Life course. "Make it about this, not about me," he said. The show hinges on his guests, he insists.
"That edifies me," Shadyac says. "It helps me to grow."
KWAM 990 broadcasts "Tell Me More" from the second floor of the Soulsville New Town Center, across the street from the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. To the left is the 79,000-square-foot building Shadyac recently purchased for $3.2 million in an effort to transform the community. KWAM President George Bryant said the show is not only unique to the station — but also to anything else on the radio.
"It demonstrates the power of the spoken word and storytelling," Bryant says.
At it's core, the show circles around the "hero's journey," what Shadyac refers to as the mutual adventure people share and shape through life. For Jamie Arena, the show's sound engineer, "Tell Me More" is simply Shadyac's U of M class for the masses.
"I think his mission is get people to tell their stories, so that he can listen with an open heart and spark a conversation by reflecting a perspective back to them," Arena said. "'Tell Me More' may be aired out of Memphis, but the principles spoken of are universal so that listeners everywhere can gain something from the conversation."
"Tell Me More" with Tom Shadyac airs Monday through Friday from 6 to 7 p.m. on KWAM 990. Listeners can also download the AM 990 KWAM app from the iTunes and Google Play app stores.