Winner, Institutional 2021

Fresh Air with Terry Gross


Institutional Award

Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Originating from WHYY in Philadelphia, Fresh Air with Terry Gross has been the mainstay cultural interview program in the National Public Radio universe, as a daily national broadcast, since 1987 (originating as a local program in 1975). The hour-long show, which averages 5 million weekly listeners, is dedicated to lengthy interviews with artists—musicians, actors, directors, playwrights, authors, poets, showrunners—as well as providing contemporary film, TV, and book reviews by guest contributors. In three and half decades, the show has become the indispensable place for listeners to engage with many of the most beloved artists who have shaped society over the last century.  

The show is co-executive produced by Danny Miller and directed by Roberta Shorrock, but it is host and co-executive producer Terry Gross with whom the magic, genius, and listener appeal squarely reside. With a sultry voice, impish laugh, and a buoyant spirit of play, Gross has crafted a style of her own that is singular. Part conversationalist, part therapist, part oral historian, Gross leans heavily into her guests with an unassuming intimacy that often evokes unexpected and, at times, uninterrogated feelings or memories. She is clearly an intellectual with deep knowledge of music (especially jazz), books, film, television, and the arts, but is also wicked smart without being annoyingly so.

Gross possesses what musicians often call “big ears”—a habit of being deeply immersed in the play of the conversation at hand through acute listening, with every response an opening for richer conversation, exchange, and insight. Her mastery as skillful inquisitor is seen in questions that unearth the rudiments and alchemy of artistry—what inspires it and propels it, but also threatens it. Her gentle questioning unearths the human desire, frailties, motivations, and triumphs that have shaped the artist’s life and experiences. She routinely displays genuine interest in what makes artists great, not just as creators, but also as individuals whose personal history and humanity inspire the art itself. 

Fresh Air is just that as an interview show, especially when compared to the typical style of broadcast interviews of celebrities that is often focused on unearthing new revelations, rehashing gossipy dirt, or displaying ingratiating behaviors. Gross’s mission is the soul of art, not the spectacle of celebrity. She allows time for guests’ lengthy answers and introspection, and space for them to probe their thoughts and feelings. The result is, at its most erudite, a form of narrative documentary; at its most pedestrian, truly one the greatest conversations one could ever imagine overhearing at a cocktail party.

The program’s website includes an archive of 22,000 interviews, a true pantheon of artistic greats: Johnny Cash, Etta James, Willie Nelson, Philip Roth, James Baldwin, Mel Brooks, Elvin Jones, Rita Moreno, Keith Richards, Toni Morrison, Ray Charles, Ang Lee, Stephen Sondheim, Gene Wilder, Norman Lear, Kurt Vonnegut, and so many others. 

For being a cultural mainstay that treats its audience and guests alike with respect, while exploring the value and importance of art and artists in shaping our common humanity, Fresh Air with Terry Gross wins a Peabody Institutional Award.