When brunch conversation lags, you can usually get it going again by asking, “which public radio personality annoys you the most?”

“Harry Shearer!” Bob exclaims. “I hate that guy!”

“The ‘Car Talk’ dudes spend the entire hour laughing at their own jokes,” complains Erin. 

“Garrison Keillor’s voice makes me want to strangle a puppy,” says Jane.

“Louisa Lim really should learn to pronounce the letter ‘R,’” sighs Tabitha.

For me, it’s the hearty voice of Mike McGrath, host of “You Bet Your Garden,” that makes me want to throw my radio across the room.

But everyone loves Terry Gross.

I became a “Fresh Air” addict years ago when I was living in Maine.

The local NPR station aired the show just once a week. I was hooked the first time I tuned in. All the other women on the radio were warm, engaging, people-pleasers.

But Terry had this matter-of-fact “I’m the smartest person in the room and I don’t care who knows it” buzz that blew me away.

Growing up, I worshipped Emma Peel on “The Avengers” for her kick-ass competence. Now I had a new media hero! As far as I was concerned, “Fresh Air” was an hour of perfect radio, and I dropped everything to tune in each week. I even phoned in a pledge during the next fund drive — I‘ll bet it was the only one they received from a Mainer.

I didn’t move to Philly to get my “Fresh Air” fix daily rather than weekly. I moved here to live near my sister. But it was way cool to think that, living in Philly, I might one day catch a glimpse of Terry in person.

Philly friends told me of crossing paths with Terry on the street, in stores, and at cultural events. For such a huge cultural presence, they told me, she’s  surprisingly petite. “She seems so unassuming! So ordinary!” they said. “She could be your next-door neighbor.”

I met several local writers who’d gone on “Fresh Air.” They all said it was intense. “It felt like Terry was sucking my brain out through my eyeballs!” one said. “But I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

My sister found herself in line behind Terry at the airport one day. When Terry said, to the ticket agent, “I’m Terry Gross,” my sister had to stop herself from exclaiming: “…and this is Fresh Air!”

I finally had my own “OMG it’s Terry Gross!” moment when I spotted her browsing at Borders. I managed to refrain from shrieking “I love you, Terry Gross!” and rushing to tell her all about what “Fresh Air” means to me. I knew how unlikely it was she’d enjoy that.

But she’s a Philadelphia treasure! More precious (to me, anyway) than the Liberty Bell, the Phillies and a big gooey cheese steak combined. And in all the years I’ve listened to her show, I’ve never once wanted to throw my radio across the room. I had to do something! So I expressed my appreciation the way I knew she’d want me to — I silently vowed to double my pledge during the next fund drive. It’s the very least I can do.

(If you’re not familiar with Terry Gross’ work, click on the link for “Fresh Air.” But her National Book Award speech below gives you a taste of the mind so many of us love.)






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  • mary tindukasiri January 4, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    I love Terry Gross and await anxiously every week night for her show. Mary

  • Jody Gillen-Worden September 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Yeah. I love her too. I always thought she would be kind of fat, though. A BIG WOMAN kind of fat, not flabby kind of fat. Nice to see she’s little and big at the same time….Maybe I could be that someday? Jody