Terry Gross is the host and co-executive producer of Fresh Air, one of NPR's most popular and long-running programs. She has a friendly, warm manner that makes me absolutely not give a damn who she's talking with - if she's on the radio, I will listen. Her voice has been described as sensual, sexy, delicious, and even intoxicating. The best description I found was that of cultural critic Greil Marcus, who says Terry's approach is "eager, but not naive." An empathetic and curious interviewer, she is always courteous to her guests, and I've never heard her sound disinterested in anything. Sometimes, she giggles.
Terry was born in 1951 and grew up in Brooklyn. She earned a BA in English and a Master's degree in communications from SUNY at Buffalo. After grad school, Terry briefly went into teaching, but felt "totally unequipped" for the position and was unable to work happily within the school system. Then she was fired anyway, which left her to fall back on a job at Buffalo's public radio station, where she had been volunteering.
That was 1973, the beginning of Terry's long career in radio broadcasting. In Buffalo she began producing and hosting several programs focusing on the arts, public affairs, and women's issues. She helped host a very popular feminist program which discussed such still-taboo topics as childbirth and menstruation.
Only two years later, she joined the staff of WHYY in Philadelphia as a producer and host of Fresh Air, which was then only a local program, broadcast live daily. Ten years later, in 1985, a weekly half-hour edition of Fresh Air was nationally distributed by NPR. Because the show was so awesome, it was soon expanded to an hour, and then three hours, aired five times a week. This was popular but an impossible pace to keep up, so the show was scaled back down to one hour. Fresh Air is now distributed to more than 400 stations nationwide, as well as in Europe on the World Radio Network. Terry's charming voice is heard by nearly four million people each week.
Terry never interviews anyone without first arming herself with extensive research. In the beginning she did all this research herself, but now she has a staff to help her dig up information which may have gone overlooked by most media. It's not all up to the assistants: Terry reads at least one book a day, as well as countless periodiocals, and stays up-to-date on new movies and music. “I don’t think of myself as having any tricks... the main thing I try to do is know the most I can about a person and their work. I think the more you know about someone, the more you genuinely care about who they are, the more likely they are to trust you with the story of their life.” This approach has earned her three decades' worth of unique conversations with authors, actors, artists, political figures, and interesting people you might otherwise have never heard of. Between Fresh Air and her frequent guest-hosting of NPR's All Things Considered, she has conducted more than ten thousand interviews.
(An outstanding moment, one of many: Terry's open discussion of pornography with Hustler publisher Larry Flynt prompted him to give her the most unusual compliment of her career: "You really did a terrific job on those questions about the genitalia," he told her after the interview.)
Hardly a face for radio, she's remarkably cute as a button for a lady in her 50s. Her pixie haircut, smart-girl glasses, and frequent interviews with gay guests often make people assume she is a lesbian, but she is not.
When asked her opinion on her own wonderful voice, Terry is sweetly self-deprecating: "Early on I was sure - and I am still sure - that I was able to stay in radio in spite of my voice. In my early days in radio, when I was really nervous, I think I sounded a little bit like Minnie Mouse doing a feminist program."
While doing this research, the best thing I found was a transcript of Terry's interview with William Gibson (http://tinyurl.com/42pva), which is bound to be so lovely that I actually haven't read it yet - I'm saving it, like the last piece of cake.