Gross, Terry 1951–

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Gross, Terry 1951–

PERSONAL: Born February 14, 1951, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Irving (a businessman) and Anne (Abrams) Gross; married Francis Davis (a music critic), 1978. Education: State University of New York, Buffalo, B.A., 1972, M.A., 1974.

ADDRESSES: Office—WHYY, 150 North Sixth St., Philadelphia, PA 19106. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Hyperion, 77 West 66th St., 11th Fl., New York, NY 10023. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Teacher in Buffalo, NY, 1970s; WBFO Radio, Buffalo, producer and host, 1973–75; WHYY Radio, Philadelphia, PA, executive producer and host of Fresh Air, 1975–, national distribution by National Public Radio, 1985–. Guest host of programs, including All Things Considered.

AWARDS, HONORS: Honorary degrees from Drexel University and Haverford College; Corporation for Public Broadcasting award, 1981, for best live radio program; Ohio State Award, 1987; Distinguished Alumni Award, State University of New York, Buffalo, 1993; Peabody Award, 1994; First Amendment award, Ford Hall Forum, 1997; Gracie Award, American Women in Radio and Television, 1999; Murrow Award, 2003, for outstanding contributions to public radio.


All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians, and Artists (memoir), Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: Every Monday through Friday, Terry Gross's Fresh Air is heard by more than four million listeners through more than 400 public radio stations across the country, as well as in Europe and Japan via satellite. Thousands of archived programs document those interviews that went well, as well as the few infamous ones that did not. Among the celebrities who have ended their interview after becoming ruffled by Gross's questions are Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, Nancy Reagan, Monica Lewinsky, Lou Reed, Peter Boyle, and Bill O'Reilly. Among those who stayed on the phone for the entire hour is KISS rock band leader Gene Simmons, although the interview became confrontational when Gross asked about Simmons' studded codpiece. As Hannah Simpson noted in a review of Gross's All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians, and Artists, the Simmons interview is among the most memorable, along with those with Johnny Cash, Chris Rock, Jodie Foster, and Maurice Sendak. "The interviews are deliciously revealing," said Sampson. "Nicholas Cage talks about eating a cockroach…. Actor Devine discussed eating a dog turd…. Several musicians and actors open up about their past drug use."

Gross was born in Brooklyn where her family lived in a middle-class Jewish neighborhood. She earned her degrees at the State University of New York, Buffalo in the 1960s, at the height of the anti-establishment and anti-war movements, and Gross was politically and culturally active. When her inner-city teaching job ended after six weeks because she had trouble controlling her unruly students, she found a position at a local public radio station. In 1975, William H. Siemering, a former program director from Buffalo and creator of National Public Radio's (NPR) All Things Considered, asked Gross to join him at WHYY in Philadelphia, where he had become station manager. Gross inherited the three-hour Fresh Air, and changed the format to include a one-hour interview segment. In 1985, a half-hour version was produced and distributed by NPR; beginning in 1987, the one-hour version aired on a daily basis.

Roger Moore, reviewing Gross's book for the Orlando Sentinel, noted that she "gently moves Dennis Hopper into talking about his alcoholism and the origins of his Hollywood exile status, and jokes with Conan O'Brien about the family he started just to 'prove that I'm not gay.'" Booklist critic Donna Seaman wrote that "it's a boon to have these priceless exchanges preserved in print, along with Gross's candid commentary." While a number of reviewers felt that Gross's interviews play better on radio or CD than in print, but felt as Moore wrote that "the book offers a sample of her technique and an appreciation of how it pays off."

Part of Gross's technique is to ask guests to explain something they have said, thereby getting more information than the interviewee might otherwise have shared. Gross was able to get horror writer Stephen King to admit that his greatest fear is losing his "abil-ity to differentiate between reality and unreality." A Kirkus Reviews critic noted that nearly all of Gross's interviewees, "while discussing their work process or latest project, come up with some remarkable observation, from the piquant to the extraordinary." In preparing for her shows, and to be fully informed, Gross reads many books each week and a number of magazines and newspapers each day. She also tries to view at least one new film each week.

In an interview with Thomas Kunkel for American Journalism Review, Gross said that in choosing guests, fame has little to do with it. "We've turned down a lot of very famous people, either because we didn't think they were very talented or because we were convinced they had absolutely nothing to say." Gross said that she has been accused of talking to the "dark side" of people and said that "if that's true, I think that's because we're defined at least as much by our failures, the contradictions in our lives, as we are by our successes." She also said that her guests are not allowed to set their own agendas, but that before the interview begins, she tells anyone who is not a politician—she has different rules for politicians—that if she asks anything too personal or upsetting, to let her know, and she will move on.



Gross, Terry, All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians, and Artists, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.

Newsmakers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.


American Journalism Review, July, 2001, Thomas Kunkel, "The Woman behind the Microphone," p. 4, and "Interviewing the Interviewer," p. 57.

America's Intelligence Wire, September 21, 2004, Bill O'Reilly, "Back of the Book: O'Reilly Discusses NPR Interview."

Booklist, August, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of All I Did Was Ask, p. 1867.

Chicago Tribune, September 26, 2004, Michael Phillips, "Voicestruck in Philly" (interview), "Arts & Entertainment," p. 3.

Inside, December 31, 2000, Kathryn Levy Feldman, "Gross's National Product: The Star of NPR's Fresh Air Is the Consummate Interviewer," p. 21.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2004, review of All I Did Was Ask, p. 617.

Library Journal, September 15, 2004, Donna Marie Smith, review of All I Did Was Ask, p. 65.

Miami Herald, September 22, 2004, Hannah Sampson, review of All I Did Was Ask.

Orlando Sentinel, September 22, 2004, Roger Moore, review of All I Did Was Ask.

O, The Oprah Magazine, September, 2004, Paul Schneider, review of All I Did Was Ask, p. 228.

Publishers Weekly, July 19, 2004, review of All I Did Was Ask, p. 155, John Giuffo, "PW Turns the Tables on Terry Gross" (interview), p. 156.

ONLINE, (March 19, 2005), "Terry Gross."