Terry Gross (born February 14, 1951) 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.
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.
Terry Gross was born in Brooklyn, and grew up in its Sheepshead Bay neighborhood, the second child of Anne (Abrams), a stenographer, and Irving Gross, who worked in a family millinery business, where he sold fabric to milliners. She grew up in a Jewish family, and all her grandparents were emigrants, her father's parents from Tarnów, Poland and her mother's from the Russian Empire. She said that her family lived in an apartment near Senior's Restaurant, a local landmark. 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. She has an older brother, Leon J. Gross, who works as a psychometric consultant.
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. 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.
In 1972, Gross started teaching 8th grade at an inner-city public junior high school in Buffalo. She said she was ill-equipped for the job, especially at establishing discipline, and was fired after only six weeks.
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. 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. Many of the producers and staff on Gross' show have been with her since the late 1970s to 1980s.
The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that Gross's interviews are "a remarkable blend of empathy, warmth, genuine curiosity, and sharp intelligence." Gross prides herself on preparation; prior to interviewing guests, she reads their books, watches their movies, and/or listens to their CDs. 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."
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, deeper tone. Much has been written about Gross's voice, and the precision of her use of language has been the subject of much analysis.
February 4, 2002: Kiss singer and bassistGene 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.
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." Gross was later criticized by then NPR ombudsmanJeffrey 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'. " 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". 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. 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."
February 9, 2005: Lynne Cheney, conservative author and the wife of then-Vice PresidentDick 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. 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.
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. She proceeded to obtain a divorce by the time she started her radio career in 1973.