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Terry Gross (born February 14, 1951)[1] is the host and co-executive producer of Fresh Air, an interview-based 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 her 42 years 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 Anne and Irving Gross. 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 works as a psychometric consultant.[7][9][10]

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.[1] 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 cross country.[8]

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

Career Edit

Gross began her radio career in 1973 at WBFO, an NPR CPB-funded[12] college[13] station, then broadcasting from the Main Street Campus[13] 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.[12] Typical subjects of these shows were women's rights and public affairs.[1][14]

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 is 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]

In 2015 she appeared on Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me and played the game "Not My Job," answering questions about Hulk Hogan.[15]

Interview style Edit

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that Gross' interviews are "a remarkable blend of empathy, warmth, genuine curiosity, and sharp intelligence."[16] Gross prides herself on preparation; prior to interviewing guests, she reads their books, watches their movies, and/or listens to their CDs.[17] 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][18] Much has been written about Gross' voice,[17] and the precision of her use of language has been the subject of much analysis.[19][20]

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.[21][22]

Four notable examples are:

  • February 4, 2002: Kiss singer and bassist Gene Simmons. The interview began with Gross not pronouncing Simmons' 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' book All I Did Was Ask, and unauthorized transcripts and audio of the complete original interview are known to exist.[23][24][25]
  • 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."[26] 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.' "[27] 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".[28] 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.[28] 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."[29]
  • February 9, 2005: Lynne Cheney, conservative author and the wife of then-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.[30] 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.[31]
  • June 12, 2014: Hillary Clinton. 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 that I did it for political reasons. And that's just flat wrong."[32]

Personal life Edit

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 for a while. Gross said she dropped out of college in her sophomore year to hitchhike with him across the country before they were married.[7] She proceeded to obtain a divorce by the time she started her radio career in 1973.[3][33][34]

Gross has been married to Francis Davis, jazz critic of The Village Voice, since 1994. They have been together since 1978.[7][21][35] Davis is Catholic, and Gross is Jewish, but neither is practicing.[5] They reside in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and share a passion for music.[21] They have no children, which Gross has said was a deliberate choice on their part.[36][37]

Awards Edit

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Works and publications Edit

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Audio Edit

Video Edit

  • 2012: Birbiglia, Mike. Fresh Air 2: 2 Fresh 2 Furious. (short film)[40]

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