90.5 WESA's Essential Pittsburgh

Essential Pittsburgh airs weekdays from noon to 1 p.m. and is repeated at 8 p.m.
  • Hosted by Paul Guggenheimer

Essential Pittsburgh is a locally produced program from 90.5 WESA featuring community leaders and newsmakers in the arts, sciences, technology, business, healthcare, government and education.

  • Call (412) 246-2002 from noon to 1 p.m. weekdays to participate in the discussion.  

  • Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.
  • What stories are we missing? Send your thoughts to esspgh@wesa.fm 

Analyzing The Impact Of Holiday Hacking On Businesses And Consumers

11 minutes ago
Frankie Leon / flickr

Last year the popular retailer Target fell victim to a high profile hacking. As we head into the holiday shopping season could this happen again and what is its impact on the economy? We’ll pose these questions to  Robert Morris University Economics Professor Brian O’Roark.

Edgewood Resident Wins Rhodes Scholarship

11 hours ago
University of Pennsylvania / Twitter

Founded in 1902 and named after a South African diamond magnate, the Rhodes Scholarship, is one of the most prestigious academic awards in the world. It funds up to two years of study at Oxford University. About 90 students per year, from over 800 applicants, endorsed by 316 colleges and universities receive this scholarship.

This year 32 students from across the United States are scholarship winners. Two of them are from Pennsylvania, one from right here in Pittsburgh. Edgewood resident Jenna Hebert, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania joins us studio.

Matt Bauman / Youtube

Pitt graduate student Matt Bauman is studying bio-engineering. However an informal look at the speed of traffic in Oakland is garnering a lot of attention. Matt Bauman joins us to discuss his findings and the Pittsburgh agencies that are taking notice.

New Health Care Company Helps You Choose The Right Plan

Nov 24, 2015
Fotos GOVBA / flickr

Open enrollment regarding the selection of a health care plan offers a lot of options. How you do sort through what’s  available and choose the best option for you or your family? We’ll pose that question to Dan Harding, co-founder of Health Sage a Pittsburgh company helping to empower consumers when it comes to health insurance options.

Pittsburgh Health Innovators Finalists In Global Innovation Competition

Nov 24, 2015
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

With an initial pool of 192 applicants, the HITLAB World Cup Innovators Summit brings high stakes competition to healthcare innovators internationally. Two Pittsburgh companies, Rubitection and Ristcall, are among the five finalists who will be traveling to New York City in search of the coveted $10,000 grand prize. Rubitection CEO Dr. Sanna Gasperd and Ristcall CEO Srinath Vaddepally sat down with Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer to discuss their products and their prospects in winning the competition.

Remembering The Legacy Of Alternative Rock Station WXXP

Nov 23, 2015
WXXP / Facebook

A reunion is set to take place later this week for one of Pittsburgh’s most influential radio stations. WXXP was only on the air for two years but it left a lasting impact on many. WESA Jazz Host Bob Studebaker takes us back to the halcyon days of this alternative rock station.


Can A Combined Global Effort Stop ISIS?

Nov 23, 2015

In the wake of the attack on Paris that left 130 dead, many are concerned that ISIS has shifted its focus toward global aggression rather than the insurgency in Iraq and Syria.  University of Pittsburgh associate professor and terrorism expert Michael Kenney has analyzed the situation in the Middle East and addressed the potential effectiveness of a global coalition fighting ISIS.

Aboard The USS Requin

Nov 20, 2015
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

The USS Requin will be open for tours again on Saturday after being closed for over two months for repairs. The submarine was commissioned in April of 1945 in the closing days of World War II. This year marks the 70th anniversary since it began its service and the 25th year since it arrived at the Carnegie Science Center in 1990. We'll take a tour with submarine coordinator Maria Renzelli.

The Story Behind The Creation Of The Unisphere

Nov 20, 2015
Flapane / Wikipedia

It was the architectural centerpiece of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. It’s been seen in movies and television shows. It’s the iconic New York City landmark the Unisphere. Joining us with a detailed look at the creation of this structure is Robert Morris University professor Daniel Short author of the book Unisphere: Symbol of the 1964-1965 New York’s World Fair.

Reflecting On The Design Of Peter Muller-Munk

Nov 20, 2015
Peter Muller-Munk / Carnegie Museum of Art

Peter Muller-Munk, a German immigrant to Pittsburgh, rose from being a relatively obscure silver smith to one of the top designers of consumer products in the 20th century. The Carnegie Museum of Art will be telling his story in a new exhibit titled “Silver to Steel.” Rachel Delphia, co-curator of Silver to Steel,  joins us to talk about the exhibit and the works of Muller-Munk.

Penn State Students To Make Historic Trip To Cuba

Nov 19, 2015
Penn State

The Penn State men’s baseball team will make history the week of Thanksgiving when it travels to Cuba to play against teams from the Cuban National Series.  It will be the first time a U.S.-based team at any level has played against teams from the country’s premiere baseball series. 

The group making the trip includes fewer than fifty players, coaches, and staff, along with eight sports journalism students from the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

After a life threatening car crash last May award-winning theater director Mark Clayton Southers has returned to work. His production of August Wilson’s  play “The Piano Lesson” runs through Saturday at the downtown center bearing the late Pittsburgh playwright’s name. Mark, along with his wife Neicy, joined Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer to talk about how the accident and road to recovery have changed him.

Marketing To A Multicultural Populace

Nov 19, 2015
Börkur Sigurbjörnsson / flickr

According to the last United States census the number of people who identify as a mix of races grew by a larger percentage than people who reported a single race. This impacts our society on a number of levels. These changing demographics have not been lost on businesses recognizing the need for their products to appeal to multicultural consumers. Joining us for a look at what a multicultural approach means for the future of business is Vanitha Swaminathan, Professor of Business Administration at University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

As Syria continues to be shattered by its civil war, the U.S. and Russia are at odds about the best strategy to stabilize the nation and neutralize ISIS. While The Islamic State and other extremist organizations add to the complexity of the conflict, there are many questions to be answered. What are Moscow's goals in Syria? Should the U.S. play a more active role? We'll put those question to Dr. Colin P. Clarke, Associate Political Scientist for the RAND Corporation.

Simon Brass / flickr

Children of incarcerated parents face social, emotional and academic difficulties at a far higher rate than their peers.  These kids are at increased risk for negative behavior and potential future criminal activity.  One group, Amachi Pittsburgh, is working to stop the cycle of incarceration and provide opportunity for children. 

'Peanuts' Legacy Continues 65 Years After Debut

Nov 17, 2015

This is a big year for Peanuts. Charles M. Schulz’ classic strip debuted in newspapers 65 years ago. Charlie Brown and company are in their first theatrical movie in 35 years. Also, the annual Christmas special turns 50 this year. Joining us for a look at the Peanuts gang is cartoonist and pop culture contributor Joe Wos who was the first resident cartoonist for the Charles M. Schulz Museum.

Professor Stresses 'Vigilance' Following Paris Attacks

Nov 17, 2015
Alastair Grant / AP Images

Since the tragic events that rocked Paris last Friday the world has been on high alert. How should the nation be reacting to the terrorist event that shook Paris?  We’re posing this question to Michael Botta, associate professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Intelligence Studies at Point Park University and a former counter terrorism special agent.

Reducing Implicit Bias In The Judicial Process

Nov 17, 2015
Ronnie Macdonald / flickr

The Supreme Court considers what it takes to show prosecutors are discriminating against minorities when selecting juries.  This practice is known as implicit bias, and continues to become more prevalent. 

David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh Law professor, will soon head to the White House to address this practice.  He explains that implicit bias causes us to make quick judgments about people or groups of people, resulting in unintended discrimination.

Integrating The Arts Into STEM Curriculum

Nov 16, 2015
Eddie Welker / flickr

Creating the formula for the perfect curriculum can be a complex issue, requiring balance between subjects, instructors and policy advocates.

For several years, there’s been an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but many education experts are now pushing for an equal emphasis on the creative arts.

Uncovering Details About 'The Day Hitler Died'

Nov 16, 2015
The Day Hitler Died / Smithsonian Channel

Following the reported death of Adolf Hitler at the end of World War II, speculations arose about his potential escape, with some claiming that the dictator was still alive somewhere.  Judge Michael Musmanno, a Pittsburgh native, naval officer, and controversial judge in the Nuremburg Trials, made it his mission to prove that Hitler was, indeed, dead and gone.  

Chris Pizzello / AP Images

While many may know him as the cool, tough Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli on TV’s “Happy Days,” actor, author and director Henry Winkler has earned fame through a lifetime of achievements both on the screen and through his philanthropic work. Most recently, he served as the keynote speaker at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Second Annual Men’s Night Out last week.  Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer sat down with Winkler to reflect on his many acting roles, his Jewish identity and the challenges of growing up with a disability.

90.5 WESA


Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative leaders this week agreed on a “framework” for a state budget with hopes for a full spending plan by Thanksgiving. The announcement comes nearly five months after the 2015-16 year began.

According to Senate minority leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), the budget is expected to include about $5.9 billion for basic education funding for public school districts, a $200 million increase from this past year.

How Neighborhood Groups Are Transforming Forgotten Properties

Nov 12, 2015
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Several Pittsburgh organizations have taken abandoned lots and properties and transformed them into community-oriented spaces. GTECH Strategies Director of Operations and Programming Evaine K. Sing walks us through the Northside's newest project, one of their "Green Playces," and we visit Homewood, where Operation Better Block Community Development Coordinator Demi Kolke tells us what's in the works for the neighborhood.

Lessons From Cuyahoga County On Land Banking

Nov 12, 2015
Cuyahoga Land Bank / Facebook

Since its creation in 2009, the Cuyahoga Land Bank has been a successful model for the Ohio land banking process, bringing in a hundred vacant properties a month.

Gus Frangos, president and general counsel of the land bank, joined Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggemheimer to explain Cuyahoga’s success and how other counties can learn from it.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Vacant properties in Pittsburgh are increasingly becoming more abundant, driving property values down and costing tax payers nearly $400,000 a year.   Liz Hersh, Executive Director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania says that although there are 16,000 to 20,000 vacant properties in Pittsburgh, blight in Pennsylvania is not just an urban issue.

“Because we’re an old state, we’ve had a lot of changes in industry, and we’ve had a lot of population loss over the years, and a lack of reinvestment, and a lack of policy to encourage or incentivize reuse of old properties,” Hersh explains.

Words From Inside The Detention Camp At Guantánamo Bay

Nov 11, 2015
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Since 2002, Mohamedou Slahi has been imprisoned at the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba even though the U.S. has never charged him with a crime. A federal judge ordered his release in March 2010, but he remains imprisoned. Slahi has kept a diary that has been published as "Guantanamo Diary." It was edited by Larry Siems who is appearing tonight as part of a City of Asylum presentation. He'll join us in studio to discuss the process he went through in editing the diary.

For military veterans, the transition from service to civilian life can be stressful and unpredictable. When she was a freshman in high school, Alexis Werner was startled by the changes she saw in her stepfather, who had recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan. She, along with Vietnam veteran and counselor Gregg Dietz, formed the nonprofit Seeds of Hope, to address issues of Post-Traumatic stress among servicemen and women. Their latest outreach project is a documentary called Our Way Home, which premieres tomorrow at Soldiers and Sailors Museum in Oakland.  Alexis Werner and Gregg Dietz explain the purpose of the film and how they plan on helping veterans and their families.

Chris Breeze / flickr

According to the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response decision, over 5,000 cases of rape or sexual assault were reported by military men and women in 2014.  While reporting was up by 50 percent, many criticized the statistics indicating that of the 5,000, less than ten percent went to trial and less than eight percent resulted in convictions.  

Since 2011, Attorney Susan Burke has been fighting for the rights of victims of military sexual assault.  She’s featured in the Academy Award nominated documentary The Invisible War, which will screen prior to her speaking this Saturday at the University of Pittsburgh.  She’ll share her experience defending victims and why she believes the chain of command military judicial system should be changed.

Genetics And Environment Big Influences For Drug Addicts

Nov 10, 2015
Charles Williams / flickr

According to our guest heroin addiction is a desperation issue. Some addicts are seeking an inexpensive way to treat their pain. So, what does it take for someone addicted to heroin and other opiates to get treatment? We’ll pose that question to our guest Sarah Younger, a drug and alcohol counselor.

gackmc / flickr

Heroin related deaths in the U.S. have tripled from 2010 to 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overdoses are now the leading cause of death for people 24 to 44 in Western Pennsylvania, mainly in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, showing that heroin use is no longer just an inner-city problem. Data from the University of Pittsburgh underscore the demographic shift: 65% percent of people dying from heroin overdoses in the Pittsburgh region are men (35% women), most are white, and their ages range from teens up to the early 70s. 

Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, says the problem originates not from street gangs and drug trafficking, but in suburban medicine cabinets.