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Terry Gross

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Terry Gross
Gross in 2016
Born (1951-02-14) February 14, 1951 (age 73)
New York City, U.S.
Alma materUniversity at Buffalo (BA, M.Ed)
Occupation(s)Journalist, author
High school friend
(m. 1970, divorced)
(m. 1994)
ShowFresh Air
Station(s)WHYY-FM, NPR
CountryUnited States

Terry Gross (born February 14, 1951)[1] is an American journalist who is the host and co-executive producer of Fresh Air, an interview-based radio show produced by WHYY-FM in Philadelphia and distributed nationally by NPR. Since joining NPR in 1975, Gross has interviewed thousands of guests.[2][3]

Gross has won praise over the years for her low-key and friendly yet often probing interview style and for the diversity of her guests. She has a reputation for researching her guests' work the night before an interview, often asking them unexpected questions about their early careers.[4]

Early life


Terry Gross was born in Brooklyn, New York City,[5][2] and grew up in its Sheepshead Bay neighborhood, the second child of Anne (Abrams), a stenographer, and Irving Gross,[6] who worked in a family millinery business, where he sold fabric to milliners.[7] She grew up in a Jewish family, and all her grandparents were immigrants, her father's parents from Tarnów, Poland, and her mother's from the Russian Empire.[8][9][6] She said that her family lived in an apartment near Senior's Restaurant, a local landmark.[10][11] When she was young, people would often ask where Gross came from, assuming that her lack of a heavy Brooklyn accent meant she grew up elsewhere.[10] She has an older brother, Leon J. Gross, who works as a psychometric consultant.[10][12][13]

In 1968, Gross graduated from Sheepshead Bay High School. She earned a bachelor's degree in English and a Master of Education degree in communications from the University at Buffalo.[2] While in college, she married her high-school boyfriend who attended the same university; they subsequently divorced. She took a year off from school to hitchhike across the country.[11]

In 1972, Gross started teaching 8th grade at an inner-city public junior high school in Buffalo.[10] She said she was ill-equipped for the job, especially at establishing discipline, and was fired after only six weeks.[14]

Terry Gross, host of the NPR radio program Fresh Air, in the WHYY studios in Philadelphia in 2004



Gross began her radio career in 1973 at WBFO, an NPR CPB-funded[15] college[16] station, then broadcasting from the Main Street Campus[16] of the University at Buffalo in Buffalo, New York, where she started out as a volunteer on a show called Woman Power, then co-hosted This is Radio.[15] Typical subjects of these shows were women's rights and public affairs.[2][17]

In 1975, she moved to WHYY-FM in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to host and produce Fresh Air, which was a local interview program at the time. In 1985, Fresh Air with Terry Gross went national, being distributed weekly by NPR. It became a daily program two years later. Gross typically conducts the interviews from the WHYY-FM studios in Philadelphia, with her subject at the studio of a local NPR affiliate convenient to them connected via telephone or satellite feed. For the majority of these conversations, Gross is not face-to-face with her subjects.[4] Gross creates a daily show that is an hour long, usually includes two interviews, and is distributed to over 190 NPR stations. The show reaches an audience of millions of daily listeners.[7] Many of the producers and staff on Gross's show have been with her since the late 1970s to 1980s.[10]

Interview style


The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that Gross's interviews are "a remarkable blend of empathy, warmth, genuine curiosity, and sharp intelligence."[18] Gross prides herself on preparation; prior to interviewing guests, she reads their books, watches their movies, or listens to their CDs.[19] The Boston Phoenix opined that "Terry Gross ... is almost certainly the best cultural interviewer in America, and one of the best all-around interviewers, period. Her smart, thoughtful questioning pushes her guests in unlikely directions. Her interviews are revelatory in a way other people's seldom are."[14]

Gross said that when she first started working in radio, her voice was much higher with anxiety. For years she took singing lessons,[3] and has worked to relax her voice and to a more natural, deeper tone.[10][20] Much has been written about Gross's voice,[19] and the precision of her use of language has been the subject of much analysis.[21][22]

Difficult interviews


There have been some occasions when interviews have not gone smoothly. Gross asked Nancy Reagan about the lack of funding and mishandling of HIV/AIDS by her husband, President Ronald Reagan, which was not well received. Several guests, including Lou Reed, Jann Wenner, Faye Dunaway, Monica Lewinsky, Bill O'Reilly, and Adam Driver, have stopped their interviews prematurely.[23][24][25]

Three notable examples are:

  • February 4, 2002: Kiss singer and bassist Gene Simmons. The interview began with Gross not pronouncing Simmons's original Hebrew last name to his liking. Simmons dismissively replied to her that she pronounced without "flavor" because she had a "Gentile mouth"; Gross responded that she is Jewish. In the interview, Gross asked Simmons about his studded codpiece, to which Simmons replied, "It holds in my manhood, otherwise it would be too much for you to take," adding, "If you want to welcome me with open arms, I'm afraid you're also going to have to welcome me with open legs," to which Gross replied, "That's a really obnoxious thing to say." Unlike most Fresh Air guests, Simmons refused to grant permission for the interview to be made available on the NPR website. The interview appears in Gross's book All I Did Was Ask, and unauthorized transcripts and audio of the complete original interview are known to exist.[26][27][28]
  • October 8, 2003: Fox News television host Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly walked out of the interview because of what he considered biased questions, creating a media controversy fed by the ongoing presidential campaign. Toward the end of the interview, O'Reilly asked Gross if she had been as tough on Al Franken, who had appeared on the program two weeks earlier. Gross responded, "No, I wasn't ... we had a different interview."[29] Gross was later criticized by then NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin for "an interview that was, in the end, unfair to O'Reilly" and that "it felt as though Terry Gross was indeed 'carrying Al Franken's water'. "[30] Dvorkin described Gross's interviewing tactic of reading a quote critical of O'Reilly after he had walked out of the room as "unethical and unfair".[31] Gross was later supported by an NPR colleague, Mike Pesca, who contended that O'Reilly did have the opportunity to respond to a criticism that Gross read to O'Reilly levelled by People magazine, but that he defaulted by prematurely abandoning the interview.[31] On September 24, 2004, Gross and O'Reilly met again on O'Reilly's television show, where Gross assured O'Reilly, "no matter what you ask me, I'm staying for the entire interview."[32]
  • February 9, 2005: Lynne Cheney, conservative author and the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney. The initial focus of the interview was on Cheney's latest history book, but Gross moved on to questions about Cheney's lesbian daughter Mary and her opinion of the Bush administration's opposition to same-sex marriage.[33] Cheney declined to comment on her daughter's sexuality, but repeatedly stated her opposition to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which was being endorsed by President George W. Bush. Cheney declined to discuss the matter further. When Gross brought the interview back to issues of gay rights, Cheney again refused to comment. According to producers, Cheney had been warned that Gross would ask about politics and current events.[34]

Other appearances


On October 30, 1988, Gross played radio host "Rose Butler" in a remake of the famous The War of the Worlds broadcast of fifty years earlier. The 1988 version was produced by WGBH in Boston and picked up by 150 National Public Radio stations.

Gross appeared as a guest voice on The Simpsons as herself in the episodes "The Debarted" and "The Girl on the Bus".

During the spring 1998 semester, Gross was a guest lecturer at University of California-Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.[4]

In 2012, Gross appeared in a short comedic film by Mike Birbiglia titled "The Secret Criminal Life of Terry Gross."[35]

In 2015 she appeared on Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me and played the game "Not My Job", answering questions about Hulk Hogan.[36]

In June 2017, Gross appeared as a guest-voice on Clarence as Aberdale Public Radio host, Debra Copper, in the episode "Public Radio".[37]

In January 2020, Gross appeared on the PBS program Finding Your Roots, in which she explored her Jewish heritage.[38][39] A year prior, host Henry Louis Gates Jr. had been a guest on Fresh Air.[40] At the conclusion of their Fresh Air interview, Gates invited Gross to appear on Finding Your Roots.[40]

In 2020, Gross appeared as a fictionalized version of herself in the audiobook version of the Max Brooks novel Devolution.

She is the voice of Pam in the HBO Max animated series The Fungies!.

Personal life


While she was in college in the late 1960s, Gross was married for about a year to a man she knew from high school, with whom she had been living previously. Gross said she dropped out of college in her sophomore year to hitchhike with him across the country before they were married.[10] She obtained a divorce by the time she started her radio career in 1973.[4][41][42]

Gross has been married to Francis Davis, a former jazz critic for The Village Voice, since 1994. They have been together since 1978.[10][23][43] Davis is Catholic, and Gross is Jewish, but neither is practicing.[8] They reside in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and share a passion for music.[23] They have no children, which Gross has said was a deliberate choice on their part.[44][45]


External videos
video icon Terry Gross Receives the 2015 National Humanities Medal, September 22, 2016, C-SPAN, user-created clip showing only the segment where Terry Gross receives the medal.[46]

Works and publications



  • Gross, Terry. All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians, and Artists. New York: Hyperion, 2004. ISBN 978-1-401-30010-4, ISBN 978-0-316-29123-1. OCLC 54459942, 56951611, 883328360.




  • 2012: Birbiglia, Mike. Fresh Air 2: 2 Fresh 2 Furious (short film).[50]


  1. ^ "Gross, Terry 1951–". Encyclopedia.com. Cengage. Retrieved October 14, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Terry Gross: Host, Fresh Air". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  3. ^ a b Burton, Susan (October 21, 2015). "Terry Gross and the Art of Opening Up: The 'Fresh Air' host's 40-year, 13,000-interview master class in conversation". The New York Times. Retrieved October 23, 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d Leibovich, Lori (June 22, 1998). "Turning the tables on Terry Gross". Salon. Retrieved January 17, 2008.
  5. ^ "'Fresh Air' Host Terry Gross Appears on 'Finding Your Roots' - Jewish Exponent". January 19, 2020.
  6. ^ a b Stated on Finding Your Roots, January 21, 2020
  7. ^ a b Kennedy, John H. (May 6, 1997). "Terry Gross Makes Conversation Seem Like a Breeze on 'Fresh Air'". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  8. ^ a b Phillips, Michael (September 26, 2004). "Voicestruck in Philly by Terry Gross". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  9. ^ Gross, Terry (October 18, 2010). "Spending The Night With Sleepwalker Mike Birbiglia". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Maron, Marc (May 21, 2015). "Episode 604 - Terry Gross". WTF with Marc Maron. Retrieved May 25, 2015.
  11. ^ a b "Terry Gross to Marc Maron: 'Life Is Harder Than Radio'". Fresh Air. NPR. May 20, 2015. Retrieved May 21, 2015.
  12. ^ "Gross, Terry". Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Pennsylvania State University. Archived from the original on August 6, 2014. Retrieved May 25, 2015.
  13. ^ Gross, PhD, Leon J. (September 2012). "Certification Examination: Summary of September 2012 Administration" (PDF). American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB). Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  14. ^ a b "Terry Gross: Producer and Host of National Public Radio's "Fresh Air"". Seattle Arts & Lectures. April 24, 2001. Archived from the original on August 18, 2002. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  15. ^ a b Jesse Thorn (August 10, 2017). "The Turnaround: Terry Gross". maximumfun.org. Retrieved September 4, 2017.
  16. ^ a b "Welcome to WBFO". February 3, 1998. Archived from the original on February 3, 1998. Retrieved September 4, 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  17. ^ Yan, Eleanor (April 9, 2000). "NPR Host Breathes Fresh Air Into Talk Radio: Gross 'Finds The Storytellers Behind the Stories'". The Morning Call. Allentown, Pennsylvania. Retrieved September 4, 2017.
  18. ^ "Inside WBUR: Terry Gross". WBUR. June 3, 2007. Archived from the original on January 2, 2008. Retrieved January 17, 2008.
  19. ^ a b Goldman, Andrew (July 20, 2012). "Can 'Fresh Air' Kill Plants?". The New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  20. ^ Bergstrom, Bill (January 18, 2001). "Queen of questions". The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  21. ^ Marcus, Greil (March 16, 1998). "One Step Back; Public Radio Hosts Drop In and Maybe Stay Too Long". The New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  22. ^ van Zuylen-Wood, Simon (December 21, 2012). "Terry Gross: The Queen of "Like". How the NPR host saved America's dumbest word". Philadelphia. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  23. ^ a b c Stewart, David (October 4, 1999). "Terry Gross: engaged with subject and listeners". Current. American University School of Communication. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  24. ^ Leibovich, Lori (June 22, 1998). "Turning the tables on Terry Gross". Salon.com. Retrieved October 13, 2015.
  25. ^ Tani, Maxwell (December 17, 2019). "Adam Driver Walks Out of NPR 'Fresh Air' Interview Over 'Marriage Story' Clip". The Daily Beast. Retrieved December 18, 2019.
  26. ^ Gross, Terry (February 4, 2002). "Leader and Bassist of the Band Kiss, Gene Simmons". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved January 17, 2008.
  27. ^ Gross, Terry (February 4, 2002). "Terry Gross interview with Gene Simmons". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved January 17, 2008.
  28. ^ Gross, Terry (February 4, 2002). "Transcript of Gene Simmons and Terry Gross, host of NPR's Fresh Air". Fresh Air. NPR. Archived from the original on October 30, 2005. Retrieved October 30, 2005.
  29. ^ Gross, Terry (October 8, 2003). "Bill O'Reilly". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved January 17, 2008.
  30. ^ Dvorkin, Jeffrey A. (October 15, 2003). "Gross vs. O'Reilly: Culture Clash on NPR". NPR Ombudsman. NPR. Retrieved January 17, 2008.
  31. ^ a b Gladstone, Brooke; Pesca, Mike (June 23, 2006). "Watching You Watching Me: Jeffrey Dvorkin". On The Media. NPR. Archived from the original on October 1, 2006. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  32. ^ O'Reilly, Bill (September 22, 2004). "Terry Gross and Bill O'Reilly: Round Two". The O'Reilly Factor. Fox News. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  33. ^ Gross, Terry (February 9, 2006). "Lynne Cheney, Author and Historian". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved January 17, 2008.
  34. ^ Dvorkin, Jeffrey A. (February 15, 2005). "A Week of Insults on NPR". NPR Ombudsman. NPR. Retrieved January 17, 2008.
  35. ^ Birbiglia, Mike (May 14, 2012). "The Secret Criminal Life of Terry Gross". The Atlantic. Retrieved November 8, 2020. Mike Birbiglia's radio interview with the famous Fresh Air host takes an unexpected turn.
  36. ^ "Not My Job: Terry Gross Gets Quizzed On Terry Gene Bollea (aka Hulk Hogan)". Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!. July 11, 2015. Retrieved September 20, 2016.
  37. ^ Milligan, Mercedes. "Clips: Terry Gross Guests on 'Clarence,' Robert Rodriguez Meets 'Uncle Grandpa'". Animation Magazine. Jean Thoren. Retrieved February 11, 2023.
  38. ^ "Terry Gross is featured in: Season 6, Episode 5: Beyond the Pale". Finding Your Roots. PBAS. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  39. ^ "Season 6, Episode 5". Finding Your Roots. PBS. January 21, 2020. Retrieved November 8, 2020. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explores the Jewish heritages of actor Jeff Goldblum, radio host Terry Gross
  40. ^ a b "Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. On DNA Testing And Finding His Own Roots". Fresh Air. NPR. January 21, 2019. In front of all these people and all these viewers. I'm here to ask, on behalf of our production staff, if you will be a guest in next season
  41. ^ Horowitz, Shel (April 1999). "Interviewing the Interviewer: An Evening with Fresh Air's Terry Gross". Frugal Fun. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  42. ^ Gewertz, Ken (October 11, 2001). "NPR's most seductive voice speaks". Harvard Gazette. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  43. ^ "Proust Questionnaire - Terry Gross". Vanity Fair. September 2012. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
  44. ^ Gross, Terry (June 11, 2003). "Actor B.D. Wong". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved September 3, 2008.
  45. ^ Keaveny, Tami (September 24, 2013). "Off the air and on the record with NPR's Terry Gross". C-Ville Weekly. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
  46. ^ "User Clip: Terry Gross Receives the 2015 National Humanities Medal". C-SPAN. September 22, 2016. Retrieved May 16, 2020.
  47. ^ "CPB Names Terry Gross 2003 Murrow Award Recipient". Corporation for Public Broadcasting (Press release). May 16, 2003. Retrieved January 17, 2008.
  48. ^ "President Obama to Award 2015 National Humanities Medals".
  49. ^ "Stephen Colbert Presents Fresh Air with Terry Gross with the Peabody Institutional Award". YouTube. May 24, 2022.
  50. ^ Gannes, Liz (May 11, 2012). "The Secret Life of NPR's Terry Gross (Video)". All Things D. Retrieved June 25, 2015.

Further reading