Our Most Memorable ‘Fresh Air’ Interviews

Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, Reading Rainbow, and other various daytime PBS programming played important roles in my development as a youth. Each episode wrapped education over a ball of entertainment, or was it the other way around?

Of course, I eventually outgrew PBS, along with the rest of the Internet generation. In its stead, we found our attention diverted to instant messaging, email, and eventually social networks. Yet, where is our contemporary replacement – the engaging and enriching content we once enjoyed as a kid? We have to backtrack the technology highway to find it in a public radio station.

That’s not to say NPR hasn’t adapted to the digital age. The majority of its Twitter followers listen to NPR on the radio, and it’s Facebook fan page has grown to over 1.5 million subscribers.

Recently, congress voted to prohibit federal money from funding NPR. I can’t comment on whether I agree with the bill or if NPR has a distinctly liberal bias, as Republicans have claimed. I do, however, hope this doesn’t spell the demise of many people’s most trusted source of news and cultural content.

One of my favorite programming on NPR is ‘Fresh Air’ with Terry Gross. In fact, the most popular topic on the NPR’s Facebook page is the question, “What are the best past NPR Fresh Air interviews to listen to?

Many people poured in to submit or vote upon their favorite interviews. Having heard most of them, I can see each one’s appeal. Ms. Gross has a very distinct interviewing style that’s highlighted by her empathetic personality underscored by very meticulous research on her subject. What results are either very open accounts of the interviewees’ lives or defensive and sometimes hostile interviews. In both cases, the emotions are real and unadulterated.

While I can’t list every interview recommended by fellow Facebookers, I’ll post the most liked ones and a few I thought were most memorable, along with what the recommenders have to say about it.

Tracy Morgan

Fresh Air – Tracy Morgan.mp3

“I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest of all time or anything, but the October 2009 interview with Tracy Morgan (30 Rock) was truly remarkable – a memorably powerful bit of radio journalism. I don’t know, I still remember listening to it when it first aired: where I was, the details of the route I was driving, the weather, so strong an imprint it has on my memory. I believe I caught myself tearing up more than a little bit when he began to cry on air when talking about his estranged mother and about his father dying of AIDS. It just caught me entirely off guard (and Terri, too, which adds to the uniqueness).”

– David Salter (Works at USC Viterbi School of Engineering)

Gene Simmons

Fresh Air – Gene Simmons.mp3

“KISS’s Gene Simmons’ bizarre, openly hostile, misogynistic rant, including the implication that Terry Gross wanted to sleep with him.

From Terry Gross’s Wikipedia page:

The February 4, 2002 interview with Kiss lead singer and bassist Gene Simmonsbegan with Gross mispronouncing Simmons’ original Hebrew last name.Simmons dismissively replied to her that she mispronounced it becauseshe had a Gentile mouth. Gross replied that her mouth was not Gentile. Gross questions Simmons’ views on the importance of money. In the interview Grossinterjects “so having sex with you” (implying herself and Simmons), Simmons said, “you’re going to have to stand in line.” Gross continuedwith questioning Simmons about his many liaisons. Later Simmons said ‘If you want to welcome me with open arms, I’m afraid you’re also going tohave to welcome me with open legs,’ to which Gross replied, ‘That’s a really obnoxious thing to say.’

Simmons refused to grant NPR permission to put the audio online…”

- Drew Nilsen (University of Texas)

Sasha Baron Cohen

Fresh Air – Sacha Baron Cohen.mp3

“The best “Fresh Air” interview I’ve heard was Sascha Baron Cohen talking about the process of filming ‘Borat’. It was especially enlightening because it was one of the few interviews he did at the time that was out-of-character.”

- John Spangler (Michigan)

Stephen Colbert

Fresh Air – Stephen Colbert.mp3

“The Stephen Colbert interview was excellent. It was him and not him as Colbert the character.”

- Xander Meise Bay (Columbia University)

Bill O’Reilly

Fresh Air – Bill O’Reilly.mp3

“The Bill O’Reilly interview where he storms out of the interview is pretty awesome.”

- Tom Hayden (PhD student at Northwestern Univeristy)

My Personal Favorites

The three interviews below are my personal favorites and also were recommended on Facebook. Beyond being fans of their work, I had a very myopic perception of who they were, basing most of my opinions on a few sounds bytes and on how the media portrays them. What I’ve learned is that to get to where they are today, meaning success, there’s a very real and personal struggle they must go through. Jay-Z poignantly explains why he had to sell crack cocaine, Russell Brand speaks of his grim bouts with heroin addiction, and RZA describes how difficult it was to satisfy his thirst for music given his humble beginnings.


Fresh Air – Jay-Z.mp3

Russell Brand

Fresh Air – Russell Brand.mp3


Fresh Air – RZA.mp3

  • Mr. Roman

    Maurice Sendak (author of Where the Wild Things Are) had such a powerful and haunting interview reflecting on his imminent death and legacy. Its the best I’ve ever heard from Terri Gross.


  • AudreyA

    Does anyone have a link to the Burt Reynolds interview? I heard it broadcast and recall Reynolds becoming more and more hostile, until he stormed out of the interview–and I missed what she said that prompted that.  Given that he had just made Boogie Nights (an all time most disgusting movie that I walked out on) I wonder if she said something negative about it (sure hope so, I never thought of him the same after Boogie Nights).

    • Ryan Collins

      Boogie Nights is a masterpiece. Get hip. PtA