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 
Something Better To Come / Facebook

For 14 years Oscar nominated director Hanna Polak followed the life of a young homeless girl named Yula who was living in a Russian garbage dump. She chronicles Yula’s experiences and talks about hope in her new documentary, Something Better to Come. Ahead of the film’s screening at the Carnegie Mellon University International Film Festival, Polak spoke with Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer.

Free Speech And The Firing Of Wendy Bell

Apr 1, 2016
Christopher P / flickr

The firing of award-winning journalist and 18-year WTAE-TV news anchor Wendy Bell made both local and national news. Wednesday, Pittsburgh's ABC-TV news affiliate  “ended its relationship” with the news anchor, deeming her comments “inconsistent with the company’s ethics and journalistic standards.”

David Brossard / flickr

A team of nine volunteers in Allegheny County, over the last year, has been reviewing every aspect of county government. This review, required by law, must be done every ten years. WESA’s Mark Nootbaar is reporting on the series of recommendations released by the commission and joins us to discuss the government review commission.

Early Dyslexia Identification Essential For Student Success

Mar 31, 2016
Sam Greenhalgh / flickr

20 percent of school-aged children in the United State are impacted by dyslexia or similar language-based disorders. Because it’s an invisible disability, dyslexia is difficult to diagnose, especially in young children. New research suggests early detection could be key in ensuring these students receive the services they need to succeed. We’ll ask Pittsburgh Region Chair Christine Seppi and board member Daphne Uliana of the Pennsylvania Branch of the International Dyslexia Association about new pilot programs and legislature moving through the Commonwealth. The annual conference is being held next week.

Third and fourth grade students with dyslexia are invited to enroll at Provident Charter School in Troy Hill, which opens this fall. 

General Michael Hayden On Counterterrorism Techniques

Mar 31, 2016
William B. Plowman / AP Images

How far should a country go “in the name of national security?” For retired Air Force 4 Star General Michael Hayden, it’s all about the circumstance.

In his new book “Playing to the Edge,” Hayden addresses both the good and bad accounts of enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation.

Understanding Islam: Voices From Pittsburgh

Mar 30, 2016
World Affairs Council

Islam is practiced by1.6 billion people around the world and is often misunderstood by many non-Muslims. On this special edition of Essential Pittsburgh, we present a discussion on the beliefs and practices of Islam held before a live audience at the Community Broadcast Center in cooperation with the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh. Our special guests include Safdar Khwaja, President of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Wasi Mohammed, Executive Director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

From police body cameras to consent decrees to excessive use of force, almost every legal question you can imagine is covered in University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris’ new podcast, Criminal (In)Justice. Inspired by heightened public interest in law enforcement and the legal system, Harris says he’s using the podcast to have in-depth conversation about issues pertinent to listeners.

The Man Who Watches U.S. Government Spending In Afghanistan

Mar 29, 2016
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction will deliver "An Existential Threat: U.S. Oversight of and Responses to Corruption in Afghanistan" tomorrow on the University of Pittsburgh campus. He joins us to discuss his presentation which will focus on how to train future generations of America's foreign policy professionals to deal with complex problems in insecure environments.

Porter Prize Recipient Presents The Case For Vaccinations

Mar 29, 2016
Partha Sahana / flickr

Awarded in recognition of an individual’s exceptional performance in health promotion and disease prevention, the Porter Prize is a prestigious honor. The recipient of this year’s award is our guest Dr. Paul Offit, a physician, educator, virologist and author.  He is also the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  

Early Positive Racial Identity Could Help Close Achievement Gap

Mar 28, 2016
Office of Child Development / University of Pittsburgh

As Pittsburgh becomes more diverse, how can we ensure young children are maintaining a positive racial identity throughout their development? In a recent study by the race and early childhood collaborative, researchers dive into the concept of identity among preschool and kindergartners. We’ll have representatives from the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development and the School of Education Center for Urban Education tell us about the need for the study and best practices going forward.

Historical Days That Changed Pittsburgh

Mar 25, 2016
Brian Donovan / flickr

2016 is a big year for Pittsburgh. As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of its incorporation, we’re spending some time sifting through some of the city’s most significant moments.  In a recent article for Pittsburgh Magazine, Robert Morris University editor and adjunct professor Mark Houser highlighted a dozen of those moments in an article called “Looking Back: 12 Days That Changed Pittsburgh.”

RMU Hockey Forward And Hobey Baker Award Nominee Zac Lynch

Mar 25, 2016
Robert Morris University

Robert Morris University hockey star Zac Lynch is a top ten finalist for college hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy, the Hobey Baker Award. But rather than waiting for his name to be called, Zac is trying out with the American Hockey League's Portland Pirates, the top affiliate of the NHL's Florida Panthers. He joins us to talk about his stellar college career and Pittsburgh's pipeline to the Nattional Hockey League.  

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

The Christian season of Lent spans six weeks leading up to Easter. For some, that means giving up something they love like chocolate, television or profanity.

Mary Kate Ranii, 25, of Shaler Township said this year she wanted to sacrifice trash.

Does Offering Free Contraceptives Violate Religious Freedom?

Mar 24, 2016
Jacquelyn Martin / AP Images

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week putting faith-based groups’ rights to adhere to religious doctrine up against a woman’s right to access free birth control. We’ll discuss Zubik vs. Burwell with University of Akron law professor Wilson Huhn.

With Budget Impasse Ending, What's Next?

Mar 24, 2016
Matt Rourke / AP Images

After battling the legislature for nearly nine months, what finally convinced Governor Wolf to allow the the supplemental budget to close out Fiscal Year 2015-16? And while the state budget crisis is over for now, what will happen between now and the next budget deadline on July 1? We'll talk with John Micek, editorial and opinion pages editor for the Harrisburg Patriot-News and PennLive.

Remembering Joe Garagiola

Mar 24, 2016

Joe Garagiola the former major league baseball catcher and Hall of Fame broadcaster spent part of his playing days as a Pittsburgh Pirate. We’ll remember the legendary broadcaster with author and baseball writer Richard “Pete” Peterson

After Nine Months, Budget Battles Come To An End

Mar 24, 2016
Chris Knight / AP Images

Nearly nine months into the fiscal year, Pennsylvania's budget impasse will end this week. Governor Wolf has said he will allow a roughly six billion dollar supplemental funding plan to become law, but without his signature. "I cannot in good conscience attach my name to a budget that simply doesn't add up," said the Governor who insists the budget is unbalanced, exacerbating a nearly two billion dollar structural deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1. We'll talk with Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai about the governor's decision and the end of the 2015-2016 budget impasse.

Billie Grace Ward / flickr

Following the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium on Tuesday morning, the Pittsburgh International Airport has increased security and reminded passengers of the familiar mantra, “if you see something, say something.”  Bob Kerlik, Vice President of Media Relations for Pittsburgh International Airport says they are in constant communication with both the Pittsburgh Police and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers.   

Brussels Attack Analysis From Local Counterterrorism Expert

Mar 23, 2016
Ralph Usbeck / AP Images

In the wake of ISIS attacks in Belgium that left many dead and injured, we'll talk with nationally recognized counterterrorism expert Colin Clarke, Associate Political Scientist at the Pittsburgh office of the RAND Corporation. We'll look at what's driving ISIS terrorism, why Brussels was attacked, if Belgium's security forces failed, and whether more attacks are likely.

Angela S / flickr

Throughout the country, municipalities are being impacted by the abuse of heroin and opioid use. What’s being done in the commonwealth to address the problem? We’ll pose that question to Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary of Health Lauren Hughes and discover how the health department plans to work with healthcare professionals throughout the state to confront opioid abuse. 

Looking At The Future Of Our Relationship With Cuba

Mar 22, 2016
Rebecca Blackwell / AP Images

Calvin Coolidge was the last U. S. President to visit Cuba over 90 years ago. Sunday, Air Force One touched down in Havana beginning President Obama’s historic trip to the Caribbean nation. Joining us to discuss how this trip could affect the future of U.S. and Cuban relations are Kenya Dworkin y Mendez, Carnegie Mellon University Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies & Scott Morgenstern, associate professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh.

Following The Candidates' Money On The Campaign Trail

Mar 21, 2016
Carolyn Kaster / AP Images

From television ads to flyers presidential candidates spare no expense in hopes of earning your vote. Mazetoons cartoonist and pop-culture contributor Joe Wos joins us with a look at the surprising expenditures being tallied by the presidential candidates.  

Following The Voting Trends Of Millennial Females

Mar 21, 2016
ITU Pictures / flickr

One of the newest trends of 2016 is the rise of the premium single as a consumer. Described as women who are earning money, and delaying marriage and children, we’ll discover the impact they’re having on the economy and could have on the election. Joining us to look at this trend is Alice Greene, vice-president secondary research at Campos Research Strategy.

Analyzing Rhetoric By Grade Level Of Candidate Speeches

Mar 21, 2016
Matt Rourke / AP Images

How complex is the rhetoric in presidential candidate’s speeches? According to a recent linguistics study, a typical address utilizes language on a 6-8th grade level.  Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University Language Technologies Institute (LTI) conducted the analysis.  LTI principal systems scientist, Maxine Eskenazi, and graduate student in language technologies, Elliot Schumacher, joined Essential Pittsburgh to elaborate on their findings.

J. Chan / flickr

Pennsylvania’s incarceration rates are the highest of any northeastern state.  Beginning in the 1980's with the advent of the “War on Drugs,” Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union director Reggie Shuford said the commonwealth has a history of mass jailing. He told Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer about an upcoming ACLU roundtable discussion at the August Wilson Center addressing the incarceration debate.

Exploring Race Through Poetry And Artistic Expression

Mar 18, 2016
Emily Stock / 90.5 WESA

While issues surrounding race and identity often are examined politically and socially through rhetoric and discussion, many argue the arts can provide fresh insights into seeing this complex issue more clearly.

As part of the University of Pittsburgh’s ‘Year of Humanities,’ six acclaimed African American poets of diverse backgrounds will participate in a poetry reading and panel discussion on how to explore issues of race through creative writing.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Bring out the birthday cake, Pittsburgh is turning 200!

While 2008 marked the 250th anniversary of the founding of Fort Pitt, 2016 marks the bicentennial of the city’s incorporation. One of the people leading the celebration will be Heinz History Center President and CEO Andy Masich. An expert on the city’s history, Masich sat down with Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer to discuss the upcoming events.

Remembering The Great St. Patrick's Day Flood Of 1936

Mar 17, 2016
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

At the beginning of the 20th century, flooding was not uncommon for Pittsburgh. Businesses and residents were used to dealing with spring flooding and no official action had been taken to combat rising water levels from the city’s three rivers. On St. Patrick’s Day, 1936, however, usually warm temperatures resulted in a rapid thaw of the winter ice and the city was engulfed in 46 feet of water. We’ll talk with Heinz History Center museum project manager Lauren Uhl joins Essential Pittsburgh to discuss the flood and how it impacted the Steel City.  We’ll also hear from St. Stanislaus parish historian Derris Jeffcoat about how nuns living there survived the flood and Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor owner Jacob Hanchar about how the Klavon family escaped the rising waters.

Corey O'Connor On His Family's Irish Origins And Traditions

Mar 17, 2016
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Among the many Irish families in Pittsburgh, the O’Connors are one of the most well-known. The late Bob O’Connor served as city councilman and mayor and his son, Corey, is currently a member of Council, representing District 5. Corey says celebrating their Irish heritage is an essential part of being an O’Connor.  He recounted his family’s story and modern commemoration of their culture for Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer.

Joe Flaherty / IMDB

Pittsburgh born actor/comedian Joe Flaherty joins us to talk about his amazing career. It took him to the famed Second City Theater in Chicago and then to Toronto where he not only established another Second City troupe but also became one of the original writer/performers on SCTV, playing memorable characters like Guy Caballero, Sammy Maudlin, and of course the iconic TV horror show host Count Floyd. Mr. Flaherty will discuss SCTV, his movies and anything else that comes to the high functioning mind of this ad libbing performer.