90.5 WESA's Essential Pittsburgh

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

Essential Pittsburgh is a locally produced program from 90.5 WESA dedicated to developing a deep, ongoing exploration of critical issues affecting Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, as well as 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.
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  • What stories are we missing? Send your thoughts to esspgh@wesa.fm 
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Essential Pittsburgh
3:30 pm
Thu August 29, 2013

WordPlay: Informal Learning on the Go

Children engaging with the WordPlay activities posted on city bus shelters.
Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Preschoolers in the city of Pittsburgh can forget the mundane and seemingly endless minutes of staring down the street for a bus.

A new program called WordPlay, by the Fred Rogers Company is meant to spark conversation between parents and children at bus stops. It’s also sparked a conversation about literacy and education.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:23 pm
Thu August 29, 2013

End of Summer Getaways

Shopping area in Cape May, NJ
Credit Rick Scully / flickr

With the arrival of Labor Day weekend, summer will soon be coming to an end. Travel contributor Elaine Labalme says forecasts call for good weather over the next few days, and families should take full advantage.

Luckily for Pittsburghers, there are a variety of activities nearby for families to check out this holiday weekend.

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:48 pm
Wed August 28, 2013

The Problem of Chronic Absenteeism

Ken Smythe-Leistico, assistant director at the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development, Linda Lane, superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools and Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit
Credit Haldan Kirsch / 90.5 WESA

Chronic absenteeism is a key driver of the nation's achievement, high school graduation and college attainment gaps. The pattern for kids missing school begins as early as kindergarten.

Linda Lane, Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent, Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and Ken Smythe-Leistico, assistant director at the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development address the various reasons for chronic absenteeism.

Essential Pittsburgh
5:46 pm
Wed August 28, 2013

The Impact of Absenteeism

Ken Smythe-Lestico, assistant director, University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development, Maria Searcy, Pittsburgh Obama school volunteer and tutor, Katie Carroll, Kindergarten teacher at Pittsburgh Faison School
Credit Haldan Kirsch / 90.5 WESA

Chronic absence takes a toll on students and the rest community from an early age. Katie Carroll is a Kindergarten teacher at Pittsburgh Faison School and thinks future learning patterns are developed as early as the first year.

"I try to establish relationships with parents so that the kids are really excited about coming to school."

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:18 pm
Wed August 28, 2013

Approaching Solutions for Chronic Absence

Credit Gates Foundation / Flickr

In order for a student to be considered “chronically absent” they have to have missed 10 to 19 days of classes throughout the school year. In many cases, people are tempted to play the blame game and think teachers and administrators are not holding up their end of the bargain when it comes to keeping kids in school.

Dr. Linda Lane, superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, feels that “both the communities, the families and schools need to find common ground.” That common ground, she says is that everyone wants the kids to do well.

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:18 pm
Tue August 27, 2013

Why the "I Have a Dream" Speech Endures

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King delivering his famous speech.
Credit Wikipedia

When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech in 1963, he brought the Civil Rights movement into the homes of mainstream white America.

As the first big integrated protest to be staged in the north, PR counselor and executive speech writer Bob Oltmanns says at that point in history, the speech was a breakout PR moment.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:40 pm
Tue August 27, 2013

A Moment Of Peaceful Integration in 1963

Thousands gathering peacefully at the reflecting pool in Washington DC
Credit US Marines / Wikipedia

Greensburg native, William Severini Kowinski was 17 years old when he participated in the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom on August 28th, 1963. He had been campaigning for John F. Kennedy since the age of 15 and was inspired by Kennedy’s views on the civil rights struggle.

Kowinski went by train with a group called the Catholic Interracial Council. It was only his second train ride and his most vivid memory of the ride involved a train car packed with young people.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:00 pm
Tue August 27, 2013

The Business of Labor Day

Rosie the Riveter, depicted here by Norman Rockwell for the Saturday Evening Post, was one of the most recognized icons of the labor movement.
Credit Curtis Publishing / Wikipedia

More than 34 million Americans are projected to travel 50 miles or more this Labor Day weekend. This brings big profit opportunities for  businesses throughout the country.

Since its inception in 1882, the holiday has been marked by icons like Rosie the Riveter, barbecues and family gatherings.

Rebecca Harris, Director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University, says Labor Day weekend travelers will spend an estimated $800 on dining, shopping and gifts.

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:47 pm
Mon August 26, 2013

Comemmorating the March on Washington

The 1963 March on Washington.
Credit U.S. Marines/Wikipedia

Nelson Harrison is a Pittsburgh musician who teaches jazz and played with numerous groups including the Count Basie Orchestra. He was at the March on Washington in 1963 and talks about how the march shaped who he is today.

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:47 pm
Mon August 26, 2013

What Makes a Good Sports Song Stick?

Bucs euphoria can be felt and heard all over town. University of Pittsburgh music professor Deane Root, explains why some sports songs are more enduring than others.
Credit Jwalter522 / Flickr

The Pittsburgh Pirates are in a record winning season, and the Bucs euphoria can be felt and heard all over town. 

Songs like "Beat 'em Bucs" are gaining new popularity on drive-time radio and YouTube.

Batter walk up songs such as  "Apache" from the Sugarhill Gang, can be purchased on iTunes for Garrett Jones fans.

When a Pittsburgh team starts doing well, we can’t help but sing.

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:45 pm
Mon August 26, 2013

College Sports with Bob Dvorchak

Bob Dvorchak blogs at Sports 'n 'at
Credit Bob Dvorchak

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sportswriter emeritus Bob Dvorchak talks about the University of Pittsburgh opening a new chapter in Panthers athletic history, inaugurating the school's entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference by taking on Florida State on Labor Day night at Heinz Field.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:31 pm
Fri August 23, 2013

Pittsburgh Civil Rights Leader Remembers the 1963 March on Washington

Credit Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

Long-time civil right activist and former Pittsburgh City Councilman Sala Udin recently spoke with WESA Senior News Editor, Mark Nootbaar about his memories of the 1963 March on Washington.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:28 pm
Fri August 23, 2013

Workers Demonstrate for Fair Wage & Commemorate March on Washington

People carried signs for many civil rights causes in 1963, jobs and workers' rights were chief among them.
Credit American Jewish Congress records / wikipedia

The group One Pittsburgh is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington by staging a protest at the Strip District McDonald’s drive thru, Saturday. Protest organizer, Calvin Skinner says people often forget that the 1963 March on Washington was titled, “the march for jobs and freedom.”

“The March on Washington was always about Civil Rights,” says Skinner “But also about economic rights and economic justice and that’s a story that is not told. It’s a place where we’ve lost significant ground in this country.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:46 pm
Fri August 23, 2013

Recreational Opportunities Abound in Pittsburgh

One of the creative games developed by City of Play.
Credit Lindsay Dill / City of Play


San Francisco-based researchers, NerdWallet recently released a study that puts Pittsburgh in the top ten of best cities for recreational activity in the nation.

According to NerdWallet senior analyst Divya Raghavan, Pittsburgh’s high standing is due to a number of recreational opportunities.

Raghavan specifically notes Pittsburgh’s Parks and Recreation Department, which she says “values providing options for its residents.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:29 pm
Fri August 23, 2013

A Wide Variety of Authentic Mexican Restaurants for Pittsburghers

Nic DiCio at Casa Reyna in the Strip District, built a mini tortilla factory in the back of his Mexican restaurant, because he says authentic tortillas should be made fresh each day.
Credit Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA


Even though the Steel City is hundreds of miles away from the southern border, Pittsburgh has recently seen a rise in restaurants offering authentic Mexican cuisine. The new establishments are finding Pittsburghers to be eager customers.

One such customer is food critic Melissa McCart. A fan of Mexican food, McCart says these authentic restaurants have brought an increased variety of regional flavors.  McCart points to how Pittsburgh has begun to approach a Tex-Mex favorite: the taco.

“Six years ago you might not have seen a tongue taco or a chorizo taco, but now you can find them at four or five different places,” says McCart.

Although the number of restaurants has been rising, McCart says the important trend is the variety of styles and approaches within the cuisine.

Essential Pittsburgh
4:07 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

Elaine Labalme's Midwest Adventure Continues

The Gateway Arch is just one of the many treasures of the Midwest.
Credit Steven Martin / Flickr

As great as the ballparks of the midwest may be, Essential Pittsburgh travel contributor Elaine Labalme found that there was much more to the cities that housed them than just baseball.

From the amazing Nelson-Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City to Milwaukee’s historic third ward, to the “photographer’s dream” that is the Gateway arch in St. Louis, Labalme quickly learned that the cultural happenings of the midwest were manifold.

As an added bonus, much of this art and culture is paired up with some of the tastiest eateries these cities have to offer. As Labalme puts it, “I would say food meets art is all over the midwest.”

Essential Pittsburgh
4:02 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

Giving Voters a Say on Natural Gas Drilling

Who should decide whether Allegheny County drills in its parks?
Credit Flickr

When it comes to drilling for natural gas in the county’s parks, Allegheny County councilman Matt Drozd thinks the decision should be up to the voters. That’s why he recently introduced a resolution that will require the board of elections to ask voters if they should be consulted before the county approves drilling beneath a county park.

“Let them make a decision too and join in. They’ll learn more and they’ll feel more a part of the process,” Drozd said of his proposal.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:37 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

Pat Toomey Talks Taxes, Immigration

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey discussed his desire to reform the corporate tax code and his dissatisfaction with immigration reform.
Credit Wikipedia

Even though congress is currently in recess, that doesn’t mean U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey isn’t busy grappling with the numerous issues the legislature faces upon its return.

Toomey has focused on a number of efforts including tax code reform and retooling the nation’s immigration policy.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:32 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

An Update on the Blooming Corpse Flower

Spectators flocked to the Phipps Conservatory this week.
Credit Casey Premoshis / The Allegheny Front

The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has been swarming with visitors over the last few days. And thankfully, not flies.

The rare and odoriferous corpse flower has been in bloom for the last 48 hours.  Casey Premoshis visited the giant plant named "Romero" for the Allegheny Front and WESA:

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:52 pm
Wed August 21, 2013

The Moth Mainstage: How to Tell a Compelling Story

The Moth is described as, true stories, told live, without notes.
Credit The Moth

The Moth Mainstage returns to Pittsburgh tomorrow at the Byham Theater. Participants share a ten-minute story onstage centered on the theme “balancing acts.”

Producer Kate Tellers says The Moth StorySlams, Radio Hour and Mainstage have experienced huge success in Pittsburgh over the past few years.

She coaches storytellers before they perform and worked with Justin Strong, owner of Shadow Lounge and AVA, in crafting a story. Tellers says truly effective stories are able to reach to the lowest point in someone’s life and illustrate a turning point that defines them.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:39 pm
Wed August 21, 2013

Ending LGBT Discrimination in Pennsylvania

Credit Michael Lokner / Flickr


Although protections exist in Pittsburgh and in Allegheny County, there is currently no comprehensive protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression throughout Pennsylvania. Democratic State Representative Dan Frankel aims to provide that protection to LGBT individuals at the state level. Frankel has authored a bipartisan bill with a record number of cosponsors to amend Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act.

According to Frankel, there needs to be a uniform statute to provide protections across the commonwealth.

“It’s the last vestige of legalized discrimination that Pennsylvania still embraces,” says Frankel.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:33 pm
Tue August 20, 2013

Phase 4 Learning Centers Serve As Last Chance High Schools

Phase 4 Learning Centers have helped troubled students get a chance to excel in a different environment.
Credit Phase 4 Learning Center

Phase 4 Learning Centers are often referred to as last chance high schools by many, but to Phase 4’s founder, Terrie Suica Reed, it’s also their best chance for many troubled students to find success in their high school careers.

Though many students who come into her program come from broken homes or are even homeless, Reed stands firm in her belief that “with the right support, the right network, they can do anything they want to do.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:23 pm
Tue August 20, 2013

The Business of Couponing

Guess which American company was the first one to adopt the coupon?
Credit The Coca Cola Company

Always one for quirky trivia, Essential Pittsburgh business contributor Rebecca Harris fills us in on the origins of the now ubiquitous coupon. Perhaps more intriguing, however, is the coupon’s future. Though 80-90% of the coupon market still lies in print, the online coupon market is exploding. This is especially true when it comes to smartphones, with the mobile market projected to be $46 billion by 2016. Harris says, the advent of personalized coupons means mass coupon printing is no longer necessary. “You don’t have to be a huge retailer,” she says, to enjoy the benefits of the mobile coupon craze.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:29 pm
Mon August 19, 2013

Hypertension High Among Allegheny County African Americans, But It's Treatable

A blood pressure monitoring machine commonly found in drugstores, where you can monitor your pressure for free.
Credit Meddy Garnet / Flickr

Hypertension, known as the “Silent Killer,” is more prevalent in Allegheny County African Americans than any other group. Also known as high blood pressure, hypertension has taken the lives of over 50,000 people in the last year.

Dr. Indu Poornima is a cardiologist at Allegheny General Hospital and conducts research with high blood pressure patients in Allegheny County. She says the increased prevalence of obesity and stressors, along with access to health care and genetic predispositions, are all possible factors that cause hypertension.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:24 pm
Mon August 19, 2013

Driving a Banger from the Big Apple to the Big Easy

Shauna Yorty and Eli Mailey with their Uber Banger car
Credit Slyorty

From the Big Apple to the Big Easy, known by the acronym BABE, decorated “bangers” or junk cars, drive  from New York to New Orleans. The concept originated from similar rallies driven by junkie cars in Europe.

Shauna Yorty and Eli Mailey's banger is a 1982 VW Quantum that runs on vegetable oil. The Harrisburg couple can recall goofy stories and quirks about the rally over the past four years. Mailey converted his diesel car to run on vegetable oil with the help of a home conversion kit.

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