Terry Gross

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Terry Gross
Terry Gross.jpg
Gross at the Georgia Tech Ferst Center for the Arts, in Atlanta,
November 2006
Born (1951-02-14) February 14, 1951 (age 64)
Show Fresh Air
Station(s) WHYY-FM, NPR
Country U.S.
Spouse(s) Francis Davis

Terry Gross (born February 14, 1951)[1] is the host and co-executive producer of Fresh Air, an interview format radio show produced by WHYY-FM in Philadelphia and distributed throughout the United States by NPR. She has been in this position since 1975 and has conducted thousands of interviews over the 40 years working at the job.[1][2]

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 largely the night before an interview, often asking them unexpected questions about their early careers.[3]

Early life[edit]

Gross is the second child of Irving Gross and his wife Anne. She grew up in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Her father worked in a family millinery business where he sold fabric to milliners. Her mother was a stenographer.[4] She grew up in a Jewish family.[5][6] She said that her family lived in an apartment near Senior's Restaurant, a local landmark.[7][8] 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.[7] Gross' parents were first generation Americans, with family roots in eastern Europe. She has an older brother, Leon J. Gross, who is five years older, and who works as a psychometric consultant.[7][9][10]

In 1968, Gross graduated from high school. She earned a bachelor's degree in English and a Master of Education degree in communications from the University at Buffalo.[1]

In 1972, Gross became a teacher to 8th graders at an inner city public junior high school in Buffalo.[7] She said she was ill equipped for the job, especially establishing discipline, and was fired after only six weeks.[11]


Gross began her radio career in 1973 at WBFO, a public radio station in Buffalo, New York, where she started out as a volunteer. Typical subjects of these shows were women's rights and public affairs, and she was the host of a feminist radio show.[1][12]

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.[3] Gross creates a daily show that is an hour long, usually includes two interviews, and gets distributed to over 190 NPR stations. The show reaches an audience of millions of daily listeners.[4] Many of the producers and staff on Gross' show have been with her since the late 1970s to 1980s.[7]

She appeared as a guest-voice on The Simpsons as herself, in the episode "The Debarted". During the Spring 1998 semester, Gross was a guest lecturer at University of California-Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.[3]

Interview style[edit]

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that Gross' interviews are "a remarkable blend of empathy, warmth, genuine curiosity, and sharp intelligence."[13] Gross prides herself on preparation; prior to interviewing guests, she reads their books, watches their movies, and/or listens to their CDs.[14] 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."[11]

Gross said that when she first started working in radio, her voice was much higher with anxiety. She said she has worked to relax her voice and to a more natural, deep tone.[7][15] Much has been written about Gross' voice,[14] and the precision of her use of language has been the subject of much analysis.[16][17]

Difficult interviews[edit]

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. At least a few interview subjects have exited their interviews early, including Lou Reed, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner , Faye Dunaway and Monica Lewinsky.[18][19]

Four notable examples are:

  • February 4, 2002: Kiss singer and bassist Gene Simmons. Interview began with Gross mispronouncing Simmons' original Hebrew last name. Simmons dismissively replied to her that she mispronounced it because she had a "Gentile mouth"; Gross responded that she is Jewish. She went on to question Simmons' views on the importance of money. In the interview, Gross begins a question, "So having sex with you," to which Simmons interjects, "You're going to have to stand in line." Gross questioned Simmons about his many liaisons. Later Simmons said, "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 online on the NPR website. The interview appears in Gross' book All I Did Was Ask, and unauthorized transcripts and audio of the complete original interview exist.[20][21][22]
  • October 8, 2003: Fox News television host Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly walked out of the interview because of what he considered were 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 before O'Reilly. Gross responded, "No, I wasn't ... we had a different interview."[23] 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'."[24] Dvorkin described Gross' interviewing tactic of reading a quote critical of O'Reilly after he had walked out of the room as "unethical and unfair".[25] 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.[25] On September 24, 2004, Gross and O'Reilly met again on O'Reilly's television show in which Gross assured O'Reilly "that no matter what you ask me, I'm staying for the entire interview."[26]
  • February 9, 2005: Lynne Cheney, conservative author and the wife of then–US 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.[27] 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. Later, 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 be asking about politics and current events.[28]
  • June 12, 2014: Hillary Clinton. Interview in which the former Secretary of State and 2016 presidential candidate was questioned about her shifting support for same-sex marriage and whether her changing opinion was a political calculation. When Clinton answered that her view on the issue had "evolved", Gross pressed for a more detailed answer. This led to a tense exchange in which Gross explained that her persistent questions were an attempt to "clarify" Clinton's reasoning for the shift in her viewpoint, to which Clinton responded "No, I don’t think you are trying to clarify. I think you are trying to say that I used to be opposed and now I am in favor and I did it for political reasons. And that’s just flat wrong."[29]

Personal life[edit]

During 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 for a while. Gross said she dropped out of college her sophomore year to hitchhike with him across the country before they got married.[7] Gross was getting a divorce by the time she started her radio career in 1973.[3][30][31]

Gross has been married to Francis Davis, jazz critic of The Village Voice, since 1994, when they got married at the Park Hyatt Philadelphia. Davis is Catholic, Gross is Jewish, but neither is religious.[5] The couple has been together since 1978.[7][18][32] The couple reside in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and share a passion for music.[18] They have no children, and in an interview with B. D. Wong, as well as numerous feature articles, Gross said this is a deliberate choice on their part.[33][34]

In her interview with Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, she mentioned that during the 1960s she lived in a commune.

Gross characterizes herself as being short of stature, very petite.[35]


Works and publications[edit]





  1. ^ a b c d "Terry Gross: Host, Fresh Air". Fresh Air (NPR). Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  2. ^ Burton, Susan (21 October 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 23 October 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d Leibovich, Lori (22 June 1998). "Turning the tables on Terry Gross". Salon. Retrieved 17 January 2008. 
  4. ^ a b Kennedy, John H. (6 May 1997). "Terry Gross Makes Conversation Seem Like a Breeze on 'Fresh Air'". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Phillips, Michael (26 September 2004). "Voicestruck in Philly by Terry Gross". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  6. ^ Gross, Terry (18 October 2010). "Spending The Night With Sleepwalker Mike Birbiglia". Fresh Air (NPR). Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Maron, Marc (21 May 2015). "Episode 604 - Terry Gross". WTF with Marc Maron. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  8. ^ "Terry Gross to Marc Maron: 'Life Is Harder Than Radio'". Fresh Air. NPR. 20 May 2015. Retrieved 21 May 2015. 
  9. ^ "Gross, Terry". Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  10. ^ Gross, PhD, Leon J. (September 2012). "Certification Examination: Summary of September 2012 Administration" (PDF). American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB). Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  11. ^ a b "Terry Gross: Producer and Host of National Public Radio’s "Fresh Air"". Seattle Arts & Lectures. 24 April 2001. Archived from the original on 18 August 2002. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  12. ^ Yan, Eleanor (15 April 2000). "NPR's Terry Gross: Asking the Smart Questions". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  13. ^ "Inside WBUR: Terry Gross". WBUR. 3 June 2007. Archived from the original on 2 January 2008. Retrieved 17 January 2008. 
  14. ^ a b Goldman, Andrew (20 July 2012). "Can ‘Fresh Air’ Kill Plants?". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  15. ^ Bergstrom, Bill (18 January 2001). "Queen of questions". The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  16. ^ Marcus, Greil (16 March 1998). "One Step Back; Public Radio Hosts Drop In and Maybe Stay Too Long". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  17. ^ van Zuylen-Wood, Simon (21 December 2012). "Terry Gross: The Queen of "Like". How the NPR host saved America’s dumbest word". Philadelphia. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  18. ^ a b c Stewart, David (October 4, 1999). "Terry Gross: engaged with subject and listeners". Current (American University School of Communication). Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  19. ^ Leibovich, Lori (June 22, 1998). "Turning the tables on Terry Gross". Salon.com. Retrieved October 13, 2015. 
  20. ^ Gross, Terry (4 February 2002). "Leader and Bassist of the Band Kiss, Gene Simmons". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved 17 January 2008. 
  21. ^ Gross, Terry (4 February 2002). "Terry Gross interview with Gene Simmons". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved 17 January 2008. 
  22. ^ Gross, Terry (4 February 2002). "Transcript of Gene Simmons and Terry Gross, host of NPR's Fresh Air". Fresh Air. NPR. Archived from the original on 30 October 2005. Retrieved 30 October 2005. 
  23. ^ Gross, Terry (8 October 2003). "Bill O'Reilly". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved 17 January 2008. 
  24. ^ Dvorkin, Jeffrey A. (15 October 2003). "Gross vs. O'Reilly: Culture Clash on NPR". NPR Ombudsman. NPR. Retrieved 17 January 2008. 
  25. ^ a b Gladstone, Brooke; Pesca, Mike (23 June 2006). "Watching You Watching Me: Jeffrey Dvorkin". On The Media. NPR. Archived from the original on 1 October 2006. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  26. ^ O'Reilly, Bill (22 September 2004). "Terry Gross and Bill O'Reilly: Round Two". The O'Reilly Factor (Fox News). Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  27. ^ Gross, Terry (9 February 2006). "Lynne Cheney, Author and Historian". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved 17 January 2008. 
  28. ^ Dvorkin, Jeffrey A. (15 February 2005). "A Week of Insults on NPR". NPR Ombudsman. NPR. Retrieved 17 January 2008. 
  29. ^ Petri, Alexandra (12 June 2014). "Hillary Clinton’s strangely awkward Terry Gross interview on gay marriage". The Washington Post. Retrieved 27 August 2014. 
  30. ^ Horowitz, Shel (April 1999). "Interviewing the Interviewer: An Evening with Fresh Air's Terry Gross". Frugal Fun. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  31. ^ Gewertz, Ken (11 October 2001). "NPR's most seductive voice speaks". Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  32. ^ "Proust Questionnaire - Terry Gross". Vanity Fair. September 2012. Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  33. ^ Gross, Terry (11 June 2003). "Actor B.D. Wong". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved 3 September 2008. 
  34. ^ Keaveny, Tami (24 September 2013). "Off the air and on the record with NPR’s Terry Gross". C-Ville Weekly. Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  35. ^ Gross, Terry (25 September 2012). "Mindy Kaling Loves Rom Coms (And Being The Boss)". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  36. ^ "CPB Names Terry Gross 2003 Murrow Award Recipient". Corporation for Public Broadcasting (Press release). 16 May 2003. Retrieved 17 January 2008. 
  37. ^ Gannes, Liz (11 May 2012). "The Secret Life of NPR’s Terry Gross (Video)". All Things D. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 

External links[edit]