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
6:24 pm
Fri August 16, 2013

Making Pittsburgh Appealing for Immigration & Innovation

How can new immigration policy fuel the brain gain in Pittsburgh?
Credit Autophotomoto / Flickr

Hundreds of immigrants come to Pittsburgh to refine their skills in engineering and the sciences at schools like CMU and University of Pittsburgh. But current immigration laws often cannot keep this potential workforce in the United States.

Brian Kennedy, Vice President of Strategic Services and Government Relations for the Pittsburgh Technology Council says these potential entrepreneurs are leaving Pittsburgh for places that have more comprehensive immigration legislation.

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:36 pm
Fri August 16, 2013

Crowdsourcing Common Challenges with the Millennial Train Project

Patrick Dowd (not that Patrick Dowd) and Lindsay Patross stopping at WESA on the last leg of the Millenial Train Project
Credit Jessica Straus / Millenial Train Project


There’s a pervading image of those in the millennial generation being selfish, uncaring youths. With his Millennial Trains Project--in which 18- to 30-year-olds travel across the nation with the goal of aiding and understanding the cities they visit--founder Patrick Dowd hopes to battle that image.

“Young people have the most at stake and the most potential to be agents of change in our world,” says Dowd. “Millennials sometimes get a bad rap for being lazy and narcissistic…and we want to go against that.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:44 pm
Thu August 15, 2013

The New Girl Explores the Nation's Midwest Ballparks

Bernie Brewer's trips down the slide are a highlight of any trip to a Milwaukee Brewers home game.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

For many, the summer months usher in the long standing tradition of a baseball pilgrimage. Baseball lovers roam the nation soaking up the atmosphere of the nation’s many ballparks.

Travel contributor Elaine Labalme undertook such a pilgrimage, exploring the midwest’s best ballyards. From singing the Beer Barrel Polka with Brewers fans, to enjoying Minneapolis’s artist designed mini-golf and St. Louis’s amazing barbecue which she describes as “an 11 on a scale of one to ten,” Labalme has plenty to say about her wonderful experiences in each town.

As for where the parks stack up, Labalme says Kansas City comes out on top, adding that “the fans had a lot to do with it.”

Essential Pittsburgh
2:39 pm
Thu August 15, 2013

Late Summer Fairs and Festivals with Local Goodness

Garlic lovers rejoice! Several upcoming food festivals showcase hundreds of varieties of the popular vegetable
Credit Rhonda Schuldt / Local Goodness

Summer is beginning to draw to a close, and for most there are only a few chances left to get out there and enjoy all of its offerings -- especially the area’s lovely fresh produce.

According to Rhonda Schuldt of Local Goodness, there are a dearth of food festivals and fairs that are sure to satisfy anyone still eager to explore the local food scene. Chief among these events are the amazing array of food festivals, including the Laurel Highlands Garlic Festival this weekend, which she calls “a nice day trip away from Pittsburgh.” the festival boasts hundreds of varieties of garlic which will intrigue any foodie with an affinity for the pungent plant.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:18 pm
Thu August 15, 2013

Trailblazing Admiral Visits Pittsburgh

Navy Rear Admiral C.J. Jaynes discussed the challenges and satisfaction she finds in her high ranking naval position.
Credit US Navy

Being promoted to the position of Rear Admiral in the US Navy is both a tremendous responsibility and an honor. But for Rear Admiral C.J. Jaynes, it was even more than that. Along with the promotion came the understanding that, as the first female Rear Admiral in the Naval Air Systems Command, she would serve not only as a member of the navy, but a role model for female naval officers to follow.

“It means that I have to be a trailblazer, and I have to be looking out for all the other women that are coming up behind me,” Jaynes says, also adding that this realization fully set in when she was told by other women that she served as an inspiration.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:23 pm
Wed August 14, 2013

Heinz Cuts Employees After Investment Firm Acquisition

H.J. Heinz Company was founded in 1869 in Sharpsburg and moved its headquarters to Pittsburgh in 1971.
Credit Alex Abboud / Flickr

Global ketchup manufacturer H.J. Heinz Company recently announced a layoff of 350 employees in the Pittsburgh region. This follows a $28 billion acquisition by investment consortium Berkshire Hathaway and their affiliate 3G Capital.

The company has not yet disclosed how much the layoffs will save them. Pittsburgh Business Times manufacturing reporter Justine Coyne says cutbacks are not unusual during an acquisition, but because of Heinz’s historic connection with the city, many locals are hurting.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:14 pm
Wed August 14, 2013

Legislation Could Eliminate School Property Tax

Credit Tim Lambert / WITF

After a year of review, Pennsylvania House Representative Jim Cox reintroduced House Bill 76 outlining the benefits of eliminating the school property tax in the Commonwealth. With 91 co-sponsors in the House and 22 in the Senate, Rep. Cox is confident the bill will appeal to both legislators and tax-payers. Matthew Knittel, director of the Independent Fiscal Office, has reviewed versions of the bill and says from a revenue perspective, the bill could be made to work in certain parts of the state.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:08 pm
Wed August 14, 2013

Cool Kids: Rockin' Out With Your Child Can Be More Beneficial Than You Think

WYEP Morning Mix co-host, Joey Spehar on stage at the 3 Rivers Arts Festival with his daughter.
Credit Joey Spehar / Facebook

As a father, WYEP Morning Mix co-host Joey Spehar has a unique outlook on modern music. This led him to develop Cool Kids, a daily segment where listeners submit, “kid approved” songs and share stories about listening to quality music with their child.

“I’m a dad, my daughter’s almost two years old, and I found that she really enjoys music,” says Spehar. “I’m sure there are countless people out there who have had similar experiences.”

Dr. Rachel Whitcomb, assistant professor of music education at Duquesne University, says Spehar’s program touches on some important ideas in early childhood development.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:28 pm
Tue August 13, 2013

The Future of Law Enforcement and Sentencing

Two major decisions on Monday may have a big impact on law enforcement.
Credit Victor Caselle/Flickr

Opponents of the New York City Police Department’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy have long accused the program of having a racial bias. On Monday, their accusations were validated, as U.S. Judge District Shira Scheindlin ruled that the city’s implementation of such searches violated both the 4th and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution.

According to University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris, this ruling does not mean that there will be an end to the city’s stop-and-frisk policy. Instead, the policy must be altered so that it can fall in line with pre-existing standards for civilian searches.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:16 pm
Tue August 13, 2013

The Business of Beauty Salons

As the economy recovers, Americans are spending more and more on their looks.
Credit Bryan Costin/Flickr

The state of hair can tell us a lot about the state of the economy, says business contributor Rebecca Harris. According to Harris, beauty salons are not only a big business, employing close to 2 million people in a $50 billion market, the recent growth of the beauty industry gives us an idea of the extent of America’s economic recovery.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:40 pm
Mon August 12, 2013

CDC: 'Underutilized' HPV Vaccine Provides Effective Protection

The CDC calls the HPV vaccine "safe, effective and underutilized."
Art Writ VCU CNS/ flickr

Human Papillomavirus is spread by skin-to-skin contact, can cause genital warts, cervical cancer, genital cancer. Yet it can be easily prevented through a three-shot vaccination process, which the CDC says is underutilized. Dr. Jonathan Pletcher works at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and councils parents and their children about the vaccine and any possible risks.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:17 pm
Mon August 12, 2013

Five Marathons in Five Days For MS Research

Dawn Kumlien will be running a part of the 3,000 mile relay for Multiple Sclerosis.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Beginning August 18, Dawn Kumlien of the North Hills will run five marathons in five days from Youngstown, Ohio to Clearfield, Pennsylvania as a part of the MS Run the US relay. After Dawn’s mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1980, her sister ran relays to raise money for research. Now Dawn is taking advantage of her own opportunity to raise money for MS. She says she expects to raise at least $10,000 by the end of the run.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:52 pm
Fri August 9, 2013

As Knit the Bridge Gets Underway, A Community Effort Is Revealed

The Knit the Bridge project got underway at the Andy Warhol Bridge Saturday morning.
Ryan Loew 90.5 WESA

After participating in the successful yarn bombing of an area downtown, Amanda Gross had the idea to do something larger. As a result, Gross and the Fiber Arts Guild of Pittsburgh are graduating from trees and telephone poles to knitting the Andy Warhol bridge this weekend.

“It was just a really positive experience,” observes Gross. “So I thought, why not do a bridge?”

Yarn bombing is part of the guerilla art movement, and the process amounts to a temporary, impermanent form of graffiti.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:51 pm
Fri August 9, 2013

The Uncanny Corpse Flower

A rare, interesting specimen, the corpse flower will only bloom and share its unique scent for approximately 48 hours before decaying.
Credit US Botanic Garden / Wikipedia

Phipps Conservatory will be getting a rare, rancid treat in the coming weeks. The corpse flower, a flower from the jungles of Indonesia, is best known for its distinctive smell of rotting flesh. Ben Dunigan, Curator of Horticulture at Phipps, says that the corpse flower models itself after the scent of a decaying corpse to convince flies to come and lay their eggs.

“You really do have to smell it to believe it,” Dunigan says.

Phipps’s flower—affectionately named “Romero” after Night of the Living Dead director and Pittsburgh native George A. Romero—will only spend 48 hours in full bloom, with 12 peak hours during which the flower will be at its most putrid.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:50 pm
Fri August 9, 2013

FutureDerm and the Science Behind Beauty Products

FutureDerm CEO Nicki Zevola launched her own line of beauty products with help from AlphaLab and Innovation Works
Credit AlphaLab

Nicki Zevola has been teaching the real science behind beauty products with her popular blog since 2007. When it was time to launch FutureDerm, her own line of beauty products, Zevola already had a loyal following.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:49 pm
Fri August 9, 2013

Sci-Fi Marathons, Indie Films and Classic Flicks Coming in the Next Week

Credit Pop City Media

Pittsburgh theaters offer a wide range of films in a number of unique theaters. Dormont’s Hollywood Theater houses niche film festivals, indie movie one-night previews and classic flicks while other theaters around the city will show big screen blockbusters and new documentaries. Pittsburgh City Paper film critic Al Hoff helps parse out the good from the bad.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:03 pm
Thu August 8, 2013

Pittsburgh 2030 District Challenge

A year in, Pittsburgh 2030 District Challenge is gaining momentum.
Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA News

It’s been a year since the beginning of Pittsburgh’s 2030 District Challenge. The private-public initiative aims to cut energy, water and transportation consumption of downtown buildings in half by the year 2030.

According to Sean Luther, Director of the Green Building Alliance, a number of the big name buildings have signed on to the program’s pledge. Some of the most notable buildings include the US Steel Building and one of the oldest buildings downtown, the Allegheny Courthouse. In total, the buildings involved in the challenge account for more than 50% of downtown’s square footage.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:01 pm
Thu August 8, 2013

Computational Linguistics: Code Cracking in Our Every Day Lives

We use computational linguistics in devices like iphones and ipads. To machines, language is just a sequence of codes.
Credit Mateus / Flickr

For 18 year old Presidential Scholar Richard “Tom” McCoy, becoming immersed in computational linguistics began at an early age. Beginning with code cracking and summer camps about cryptology, McCoy developed a fascination with the way that foreign language “is kind of like a code or cypher,” he says.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:00 pm
Thu August 8, 2013

The New Girl Takes on Water Parks

The Typhoon Lagoon in Disney World
Credit Auntie Rain / Flickr

With the dog days of summer upon us, and the thermostat rising, travel contributor Elaine Labalme has a family friendly suggestion for beating the heat and getting out of town all in one go: water parks. It’s not just the classic lazy river amusement anymore, either. More complex water park rides are now as fast paced and exciting as those in traditional theme parks. As Lebalme puts it, “If you’re a roller coaster person, you’re gonna have a blast in one of these water parks.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:20 pm
Wed August 7, 2013

Do Pittsburgh Upward Mobility Rankings Ring True?

Partially based on the city's diverse and solid middle class, Pittsburgh has been ranked in the top tier for social mobility
Credit Mark Knobil / Flickr

On the heels of a popular study tracking social mobility in American cities, Pittsburgh's top tier ranking has been widely discussed.  Stephen Herzenberg, economist and executive director of the Keystone Research Center, and University of Pittsburgh regional economist Chris Briem explain how Pittsburgh’s economic past has influenced our social standing today.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:44 pm
Wed August 7, 2013

BikeFest: Celebrating the Culture of Cycling

Potential bike share station
Credit Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Bike Pittsburgh’s annual Bike Fest is back with over 100 events, celebrating the bike community and the city.  Bike Pittsburgh Executive Director Scott Brinker says with the addition of more bright green lanes, miles of bike trails and a promising new bike share program for 2014, Pittsburghers are embracing the bicycle culture.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:58 pm
Tue August 6, 2013

Facing a New Life After Aging Out of the Foster Care System

The PA Youth Advisory Board is builds leadership and partnerships among young adults who are or have been in the foster care system.
Credit PA Youth Advisory Board / Facebook

Several years before he was a Youth Quality Improvement Specialist at the University of Pittsburgh, Christopher Nobles faced the same challenges experienced by roughly 1000 Pennsylvania youth each year: the prospect of aging out of the state’s foster care system and facing a new life.

According to Nobles, the primary challenge for a young person who has aged out of the foster care system is the lack of a lifelong familial support structure. While the support of a steady home is something most eighteen year olds can take for granted, the sort of security a steady home provides is missing from the lives of children in foster care.

“There’s a great deal of psychological stress,” Nobles says, emphasizing that in foster care “You grow up sort of having to audition -- for everything.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:11 pm
Tue August 6, 2013

Fast Growing Occupations

Rebecca Harris discusses the 100 best jobs of 2013.
Credit Rebecca Harris / Chatham Center for Women's Entrepreneurship

When business contributor Rebecca Harris looked at the US News and World Report’s list of the top 100 best jobs for 2013, she noticed the effect that the aging baby boomers were having on the economy. The rapid rise of healthcare related jobs reflects this trend. Another important shift in the economy can be seen in the advent of the Chief Listening Officer position in some companies. She says this job’s rise to prominence shows that “before social media, business was really a one way communication...now when consumers talk, businesses have to listen.”

Essential Pittsburgh
5:18 pm
Mon August 5, 2013

Terror Threat Closes American Embassies & Consulates in the Middle East

The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi is one of the many embassies and consulates that have been closed following terror threats.
Credit Ryan Lackey / flicr

Last weekend the US Government issued a worldwide travel alert for Americans abroad, and closed American embassies in the Middle East. It's been called the “most serious” terrorist warning post 9-11. Dan Simpson, former US Ambassador and Editorial Editor for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, weighs in on the government’s decision, the NSA involvement and why he feels the alert is a political game.

Many believe that issuing these alerts is an attempt by the government to show support for the NSA wiretapping leaks.  Simpson agrees, saying that he can see the government wanting to identify a serious terrorist attack regardless of whether one is likely, in order to justify the NSA surveillance.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:57 pm
Mon August 5, 2013

Trying to Live on the Minimum Wage

Credit Elyce Feliz / flickr

Originally meant to protect American workers from being exploited, the Fair Labor Standards Act was enacted in 1938 and set mandatory federal minimum wages at 25 cents per hour.  In the years following, congress and the President acted to raise minimum wage to keep up with inflation and productivity. Around the 1980’s, it became much more difficult to get a labor wage bill out of congress and the term “living wage” circulates to replace the widely criticized minimum wage.  Many protesters and researchers find that the minimum wage does not reflect the actual cost of living and no longer keeps pace with the country’s economic growth. Labor Economist Mark Price of the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg shares his statistical findings and suggestions for improvement.

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