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 

Essential Pittsburgh's Favorite Moments With NPR Guests In 2015

Dec 29, 2015
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Essential Pittsburgh sat down with a number of guests from popular NPR programs in 2015. 

90.5 WESA

All three Pennsylvania row offices will be up for election in 2016.

Usually candidates vying for attorney general, auditor general and treasurer have a hard time getting attention; most voters are focused on the presidential race. 

The Sociology Behind The Future Of Religion

Dec 23, 2015
Fady Habib / flickr

According to a recent Pew Research poll on the religious landscape in the United States, more than a third of millennials are not identifying with any faith population and more than 72 percent of nonaffiliated individuals are below 50.  The news coincides with the closures or mergers of many churches in the region. But how does this impact the future of religion throughout western Pennsylvania and the United States? Dr. Sarah MacMillen, a sociology professor at Duquesne University, says this has been a trend partially predicted and partially circumstantial.  She joins us in studio with more.

Christmas time is normally a joyous moment for Christian churches. But for the First Presbyterian Church of Clairton, it is bitter sweet. This will be their last Christmas, as the church will close Sunday after a century of operation. Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer sat down with the church’s pastor Rev. Frank Trotta to get his thoughts on the congregation’s last days.

CDC Reports On UPMC Mold Case

Dec 23, 2015
Dave Nin / flickr

The Centers for Disease Control has issued a preliminary report into four cases of mold-related infections among UPMC transplant patients in 2014 and 2015. The four had undergone organ transplants that had compromised their resistance to infection and were diagnosed with mucormycosis, a rare and sometimes fatal mold-related infection. Three of the patients later died. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Ben Schmitt, who broke the story, joins us to discuss what was in the CDC's report.

Silver Bells And Red Kettles

Dec 22, 2015
Salvation Army USA West / flickr

They’re a familiar sight; people ringing bells and standing next to red kettles, asking for donations to the Salvation Army. However, donations and volunteers are down this year. Allegheny County is currently $35,000 behind where it was last year. To find out the reason for this shortage, Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer talked with Major Debra Sedlar, District Commander for the Salvation Army of Western Pennsylvania division.

Steeler Safety Will Allen On The Importance Of Giving

Dec 22, 2015
Billy Hurst / AP Images

As a safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Will Allen is used making an impact on the field. However, the 33-year old Ohio native has also made impacts off the field through his charity group, the Will Allen Foundation. Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer spoke with Allen to learn more about the Foundation and what it does in the community.  

Allen created the foundation in 2008 while he was still a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.  It was an off day for the team and Allen realized he needed to do more than just play football.

Purposeful Acts Of Kindness This Holiday Season

Dec 22, 2015
Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Today Essential Pittsburgh looks at the work being done to help the neediest at this time of year. From food pantries to the Salvation Army we'll speak with those who exemplify the spirit of giving. No state budget is affecting food banks at this time of year when the need for donations increases. Joining us to discuss how the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is dealing with  the challenge is food bank CEO Lisa Scales. Also taking part in the discussion is Jay Poliziani, executive director of Northside Common Ministries which runs a food bank which does not receive government funding. 

Pittsburgh Business Times

Signaling an end to another piece of Pittsburgh’s steel industry past, DTE Energy Services announced last week that it will be closing the Shenango coke plant on Neville Island, putting 173 workers out of a job just before Christmas. The announcement came as a shock to union leaders, who were in the midst of negotiating for a new contract when it was made.

State Budget Stalemate Continues

Dec 21, 2015
David Amsler / Flickr

Amid hopes that the long overdue state budget would be completed this past weekend a tentative agreement has fallen apart. Capitol reporter Mary Wilson joins us with the latest on the state budget stalemate. 

  More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.      

Sights And Sounds Of Pittsburgh Holiday Traditions

Dec 18, 2015
Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

On this special edition of Essential Pittsburgh we'll enjoy the sights and sounds of the Steel City's holiday traditions. Included in our jaunt around the city, via a decorated Port Authority bus, are stops at the Benedum for a dress rehearsal of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Nutcracker, tour Clayton Mansion at The Frick and more.

Why The Force Is Strong With The Star Wars Franchise

Dec 17, 2015

  It’s the moment Star Wars fans have been waiting for. Star Wars the Force Awakens opens nationwide. We’ll address the enduring popularity of Star Wars with  cartoonist and pop-culture contributor Joe Wos.

New Education Law Gives Districts Flexibility On Assessments

Dec 17, 2015
Evan Vucci / AP Images

The No Child Left Behind Act has indeed been left behind. The 2002 Bush-era education law was replaced on Dec. 10 by the Every Student Succeeds Act.  It’s passage was described as a “Christmas miracle” by President Obama, as the bill received wide bipartisan support.

But what does ESSA mean for Pittsburgh schools? For local perspective, Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer spoke with Roseann Javorsky, assistant executive director for teaching and learning at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, and Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools.

Details On Pittsburgh's Proposed Marijuana Decriminalization

Dec 17, 2015
Martin Alonso / flickr

This week the Pittsburgh City Council held a public hearing on a proposal to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. We'll look at what's in the proposal and what it could mean if council members vote in favor of the measure next week.Patrick Nightingale, Executive Director of Pittsburgh National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is our guest.

Matt Rourke / AP Images

After six months of arguing and debating, Pennsylvania’s budget impasse might finally be at an end. Governor Tom Wolf said that he believes the deal already passed through the State Senate will also be approved by the House before Christmas. The Governor outlined his hopes for the budget with Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer.

Richard Shotwell / AP Images

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's annual holiday celebration, Highmark Holiday Pops, continues this weekend at Heinz Hall. Chris Jamison, a Pittsburgh native and singer-songwriter who is best known for finishing third on NBC's "The Voice" will join the orchestra. But before he takes the stage, Jamison joins us for an in studio conversation.

Evan Agnostini / AP Images

  Next week the highly publicized Sony Pictures movie "Concussion," filmed in Pittsburgh, will be in theaters. "Concussion" chronicles how Dr. Bennet Omalu first discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE in the late Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster. Dr. Omalu is in Pittsburgh for the launch of the Bennet Omalu Foundation and its' affiliation with the University of Pittsburgh to drive research and understanding of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and Traumatic Brain Injuries. He joins us to discuss the story behind the movie and his belief that kids should not play football. 

Are Vegetarian Diets More Harmful To The Environment?

Dec 15, 2015
Markus Spiske / flickr

Eating a vegetarian diet could contribute to climate change, according to new research from Carnegie Mellon University. "Eating lettuce is over three times worse in greenhouse gas emissions than eating bacon," said CMU Professor Paul Fischbeck. He joins us along with Michelle Tom, a Ph.D. student in civil and environmental engineering to discuss the matter.      

Uninsured Pennsylvanians Feeling Impact Of Healthcare Deadline

Dec 15, 2015
Jasleen Kaur / flickr

Tuesday is the deadline for consumers to choose a health insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act in order to receive coverage by January 1, 2016.

While the Pennsylvania Insurance Department ramps up efforts to make sure resources are available and accessible to families and individuals, Gov. Tom Wolf has commended the coverage expansion, which he says has dropped from 14 percent uninsured to 8 percent uninsured in two years. 

Francois Mori / AP Images

In what’s being called “one of the world’s greatest diplomatic successes,” representatives from 195 countries signed a “landmark” climate accord over the weekend.  The agreement solidifies a promise from those countries to drastically reduce their carbon emission limits, effectively helping slow down the damaging effects of global climate change. We’ll ask Penn Future president and CEO Larry Schweiger about the significance of this agreement and how it will end up impacting Pennsylvania.

The Feasibility Of Adding Another Amtrak Line

Dec 14, 2015
David Goldman / AP Images

In an effort to increase passenger rail use and decrease congestion on Pennsylvania’s roads, PennDOT announced last week that it would be discounting tickets for Amtrak rides across the commonwealth.  Pittsburgh was added to the network between Harrisburg, Lancaster, Philadelphia and New York in what’s being called “PA Trips By Train.” Will this encourage Pittsburgh travelers to jump on board? We’ll ask Lucinda Beattie, Vice President of Transportation, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and Mark Spada of the Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail.

Five Months Overdue, PA Budget Still At Impasse

Dec 14, 2015
Matt Rourke / AP Images

The PA Society political bash was held this weekend but many lawmakers said they were avoiding the event because of concerns that their attendance would be a liability with the budget five months overdue. Governor Wolf scrubbed his plans to go. "If there's no budget, I'm not going to be up in New York," said Wolf. So, are we any closer to having a state budget? We'll check in with capitol correspondent Mary Wilson.

The Status Of Western Pennsylvania's Passenger Rail System

Dec 14, 2015
Reivax / Flickr

During the last fiscal year, more than 6.1 million people reportedly traveled on Amtrak trains in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a 1.6 percent increase from the previous year. 

Although there has been increased interest in traveling by train in Pennsylvania, many Pittsburghers have raised concerns about a lack of convenient travel times between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. 

Pittsburgh has recently been added to the “PA Trips by Train” campaign by PennDOT to increase passenger train use and decrease road congestion by offering discounted Amtrak tickets.   

Jim Kuhn / flickr

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is working to make the world a better place for women to live. The goals of the organization include ending sex trafficking and violence against women, expanding girls' access to education, ensuring women's right to vote and many more. The organization aims to make Pittsburgh a CEDAW city. To accomplish this goal they’re hosting the event Pittsburgh: No Limits for Women. Keynote speaker keynote speaker will be June Zeitlin, Director of Human Rights Policy at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Washington, DC will join us.


It's been 50 years since the Kecksburg UFO landed in a wooded hollow in Westmoreland County. At the time, authorities claimed it was a meteorite. However, most residents have never accepted that explanation and the mystery has remained unsolved. But now two researchers are putting forth a theory that seems to make sense. We'll talk with John Ventre, state director of the Mutual UFO Network and Owen Eichler, a Shafton native who has spent decades investigating the incident. 

Combat Roles In The Military Open To Women

Dec 11, 2015
Wilson Ring / AP Images

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced last week that the US military will be opening combat roles to women "without exception." The announcement came even in the face of push back from the Marine Corps, who believe allowing women in the military will lower effectiveness. Is this true? We'll be joined by Dr. Katelyn Allison, assistant professor within the Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh, who ran a series of experiments testing the difference between male and female soldiers.

Jae C. Hong / AP Images

In wake of recent mass shootings in Paris, Portland, and San Bernadino, and with the 3rd anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting on Monday, many struggle to cope with loss and fear, as these events seem to be happening with more frequency. 

Brent Robbins, associate professor and psychology chair in the Department of Humanities and Human Sciences at Point Park University says that tragic events such as these often lead to generalizations made about groups of people as a way to simplify and make sense of a situation.

Robert F. Bukaty / AP Images

Monday marks the 3rd anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 26 and injured many more. Since 2012, mass shooting have appeared to be on the rise, with recent incidents in San Bernadino and Colorado Springs.

While arguments about gun laws are a major point of contention in these shootings, mental health also remains an important factor. Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Murphy (R-18) has been examining the United States’ mental health laws and has crafted the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015 in an effort to fix the issues of mental health in the country. Murphy joined Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer to explain the law and what it could mean for the US.

Justice Delayed: The Catherine Janet Walsh Story

Dec 9, 2015
90.5 WESA

From the time he was first called to the scene, as a rookie cop, on Labor Day 1979 the case haunted Andrew Gall. For over thirty years the murder of Catherine Janet Walsh went unsolved – until last year. The story of this case is chronicled in the book Justice Delayed: the Catherine Janet Walsh Story by our guest Point Park University Professor Steven Hallock.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Mayor Peduto joins us in studio to discuss a variety of issues including his participation in the Paris Climate Summit. And after people lashed out at him for his stance on accepting Syrian refugees in Pittsburgh, what does the Mayor think of Donald Trump's comments about banning all Muslims from entering the U.S.? Also, where do things stand in the fight between the city and the ICA?