NPR’s Fresh Air is in a category by itself, distinguished by host and executive producer Terry Gross’ unique approach. Gross, who has been host of “Fresh Air” since 1975, when it was broadcast only in Greater Philadelphia, isn’t afraid to ask tough questions.
WFYI Reporter Jill Sheridan virtually “sat down” with Gross ahead of her appearance with WFYI. Read on for the whole interview below, and be sure to reserve your virtual spot for the Janurary 13th Listen Up with Terry Gross, presented by Lumina Foundation and Plews Shadley Racher & Braun.
You’re so beloved in the radio world. Have you always had a love for radio as well?
Terry Gross: Well, when I was growing up my love for radio was rock and roll radio, I used to have a transistor radio, which was a little portable radio under my pillow. And I kind of sneak listen to it when I was supposed to be in bed sleeping. But I never heard talk radio, I never heard an interview on the radio until very shortly before I started doing it myself.
There’s been so much talk of how you are able to intimately and professionally ask the hard questions. I’ve read that you said it’s tricky. What are the tricks?
TG: I think the trick is to just go ahead and ask it. There’s so many in a moment that often feel like, well, if I ask this I might get slammed on Twitter. And at some point, you just have to say, whatever the consequences are, I think this question needs to be asked.
And it depends on the tough question. If it’s emotionally tough because it’s a tough question about facing death, or having been bullied or a question about sexuality or because of gender. And those questions are very personal. I’ll approach those in a different way.
Many of your producers have been with you for decades. What’s your process when you’re picking people to interview and making sure that the they’re going to add value to what’s going on today?
TG: I’m glad you put it that way. Because that’s really our intention. Our goal is to add value, and not just to repeat what has already been said. So if you’re talking about news our news producer sends me a list of ideas and articles to look at. And then we figure out who are the best options.
What do they have to say that we don’t already know? What kind of larger patterns can they find that will be helpful in understanding the story in a larger context?
Many would consider being a voice on the classic TV show “The Simpsons” as a career highlight. What would you consider as one of your standout career highlights?
TG: Being a voice on "The Simpsons." I did two episodes. There is a poster of me like a caricature, I have it hanging in my office where I hardly am anymore. I’ve mostly been working at home, I’ve gone in to do two interviews. But anyways, I rarely see my office or that poster right now.
When you have an event with us next month, it will be virtual. Have you done a lot of these events where you are coming virtually to stations across the country? And what’s that experience been like?
TG: What I like about it, is that it eliminates the travel, which I really don’t like. It’s just so time consuming. Also, it takes me away from the show for so long. So it’s great to just be able to do it and do it at home. The part that ends up being strange is that I end up having to think of the lighting, like moving lamps around and making sure that like the pile of stuff on the floor is like moved out of the camera. So that’s a new experience.
Gross will be virtually appearing in Indianapolis to tell fans about her own path, favorite interviews and secrets to helping guests open up with her and with WFYI listeners. Learn more and get tickets here.