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.
  • Dial (412) 256-8783 to leave a question or comment before or after the show.
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  • What stories are we missing? Send your thoughts to esspgh@wesa.fm 
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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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Essential Pittsburgh
3:05 pm
Mon August 5, 2013

Aqua Man Miller Dives into Ocean's Seven Challenge

Swimmer Darren Miller
Credit Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

After swimming across the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland, Delmont native Darren Miller will become the first American man to complete the Ocean’s Seven.  This challenge requires swimmers to cross the seven most difficult ocean channels in the world.  He swims almost exclusively for his charity, the Forever Fund, which has already raised over $60,000 for families struggling to pay bills for their children living in cardiothoracic wards of hospitals.

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:22 pm
Fri August 2, 2013

Bishop Zubik Finds Pope Francis' Leadership Refreshing & Positive

Bishop Zubik thinks Pope Francis' comments are catching the attention of the public in a positive way.
Credit Deanna Garcia/90.5 WESA

Homosexuality has historically been a highly controversial subject throughout the Roman Catholic Church. But recent comments from Pope Francis may change the way the Church approaches the topic.

Earlier this week, Pope Francis said to reporters, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord, and has good will, who am I to judge?”  A statement, deemed by some as “revolutionary.”

Many say that statement highlights the compassionate nature of the new Pope and paves the path for possible internal changes in the Church. The Most Reverend David Zubik, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is enthusiastic about the new Pope’s leadership technique and finds that those in the region are equally excited.

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:12 pm
Fri August 2, 2013

Shady Side Academy Farm: Planting Seeds of Sustainabilty

The Fox Chapel farmers market is hosted by the Shady Side Academy and students manage various aspects
Credit Rhonda Schuldt / Local Goodness

Three years ago an administrator at Shady Side Academy noticed there was no market near the school’s location in Fox Chapel.  This motivated the school to host a Farmer’s Market

Two years later, stemming from the school’s commitment to sustainability, the Shady Side Academy Farm was planted.

The farm is managed primarily by students and is successfully integrated into the school’s curriculum. Rhonda Schuldt of Local Goodness explains the roles that students play in the farm and the market.

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:01 pm
Fri August 2, 2013

Urban Farming In Pittsburgh: Better Food From Your Backyard

The bioshelter at Garfield Farms will provide year-round growing.
Credit Garfield Farms

From the country to the city, many urban dwellers are beginning to develop self-sustainable farms in the backyards of their Pittsburgh apartments. These “city farms” engage communities in the farming process and improve nutrition to citizens that do not live near a grocery store or market.

Small gardens and urban livestock such as chicken and bees can be found on balconies, roofs and oftentimes in revitalized vacant lots.

Heather Mikulas works in local food infrastructure and agricultural entrepreneurship for the Penn State University Extension Office in Allegheny County and helps backyard farmers develop their own agricultural techniques. She says that everyone has a different reason to start planting an urban garden, but anyone can do it.

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Essential Pittsburgh
7:45 am
Fri August 2, 2013

Friday Rundown: A Progressive Papacy and the Benefits of Urban Farming

Beechview Community Garden on the Southern border of Pittsburgh
Credit Heather McClain / 90.5WESA

These topics air at noon and 8pm on 90.5 WESA

What Does Bishop David Zubik Think of the Pope's Comments?
Earlier this week, Pope Francis made the comment; "Whom am I to judge?" when it comes to the sexual orientation of priests. The Pope's comments about gays and women came during an in flight news conference on his way back home from Brazil and have been called "revolutionary" by some. The Most Reverend David Zubik, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh joins us to discuss the Pope's comments and what they mean for the church.

A Hands On Education: Farming and Entrepreneurship at Shady Side Academy
Throughout the growing season, our local food contributor Rhonda Schuldt has been visiting markets and farms to report back on good food that can be found in our area. She’s also asked you, our listeners, for suggestions of interesting markets and farms to visit. The Fox Chapel Market at Shady Side Academy recently responded by sharing their unique program, where students run the market as part of an agriculture and business curriculum. Rhonda Schuldt talks about what she found at the Shady Side Academy farmers market in Fox Chapel.

Farming in the Steel City
Since the 2008 economic downturn, city-farming has gone from an offbeat DIY source for cheap groceries, to a way to engage whole communities in the farming process and improve nutrition for people living in food deserts.  The city of Pittsburgh is home to some interesting agricultural projects at both the small and large-scale level. Hops and fruit trees in Garfield anyone? The possibilities for those wanting to farm in the city are pretty broad and it helps to know where to start. Heather Mikulas works in local food infrastructure and agricultural entrepreneurship for the Penn State University Extension Office in Allegheny County. She helps backyard farmers in Pittsburgh develop their agricultural ideas and talks about ways you can farm in Pittsburgh.

Essential Pittsburgh
5:16 pm
Thu August 1, 2013

Pittsburgh and Detroit: A Tale of Two Cities

Did the federal government's bailouts of the auto industry worsen the city's predicament?
Credit Dave Rezendes/Flickr

Since the beginning of the great recession, Pittsburgh has often been touted as a shining symbol of economic recovery in the rust belt, while Detroit has become the poster-child of nearly apocalyptic economic strife. So what has allowed the Steel City to thrive while the Motor City has stalled? According to Antony Davies, an Associate Professor of Economics at Duquesne University, the answer lies in the two city’s differing approaches to the collapse of their largest industries.

He notes that while Pittsburgh weathered the painful collapse of the steel industry without support, “when Detroit fell on hard times, it turned to the federal government.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:13 pm
Thu August 1, 2013

Don't Count The Big D Out Yet!

Despite all the gloom and doom talk, there are still signs of life in Detroit.
Credit Kate Sumbler/Flickr

While the recent media cycle on Detroit’s bankruptcy often reads like a eulogy to one of America’s great industrial boomtowns, Richard C. Harwood, who heads the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, sees signs of life. Harwood points to a number of positive signs in the city, including companies moving downtown, building renovations and venture capital funds being formed.

All of these improvements “are pockets of change that suggest that a new path forward can emerge.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:59 pm
Thu August 1, 2013

Leaving Detroit, and Those Who Remain

What's it like to stick around in one of America's most troubled cities?
Credit Don Harder/Flickr

When Ben Schmitt, a free lance writer and former journalist at the Detroit Free Press, left the city, he felt as though the cliche of the American dream “had evolved to fight or flight.” After packing up and heading back to Pittsburgh, he has a few parting words for those who stayed behind:

“I wish them nothing but the best of luck.”

For those who did remain, however, the city’s recent decision to file for bankruptcy is neither a surprise nor a game changer. As Craig Fahle, host of The Craigh Fahle show on Detroit’s NPR member station WDET, puts it, “we’re handling it the same way we’ve always handled the situation here.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:51 pm
Thu August 1, 2013

Say Nice Things About Detroit

There's still plenty of things happening in Detroit, including both great art and plenty of sports teams.
Credit Flickr

It might be troubled, but the Motor City still has a sort of beauty all its own, reports travel contributor Elaine Labalme. Citing the amazing parks, sports teams and art galleries, Labalme tells us that the Big D has some serious offerings for Pittsburghers interested in taking a short trip.

While the Detroit Tigers’ Comerica Park is “an absolutely fantastic facility” to see a game, one of the most impressive locations in the city, says Labalme, is “The Joe,” or the Joe Louis Arena, where the Red Wings currently play. It’s a historic arena with stories in every wall and seat. And if you’re looking to grab a bite after the game, try Cliff Bells, where, according to Labalme, “You’re always made to feel welcome.”

Essential Pittsburgh
6:40 pm
Wed July 31, 2013

Former Penn State Adminstrators to Stand Trial

The trial of the three former administrators will take place near Harrisburg

Following two days of preliminary hearings, Former Penn State president Graham Spanier, former vice president Gary Schultz and ex-athletic director Tim Curley will go to trial in what has been called the worst scandal in college football history. Bob Dvorchak, author of the book “Game Over” has written about the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case, and says this is not at all a surprise.

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:30 pm
Wed July 31, 2013

Leaked EPA Fracking Report Reports Leaks

Credit Ari Moore / Flickr

A PowerPoint presentation leaked to reporters at the LA Times and other news agencies implies that methane from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, did contaminate wells in Dimock, PA.  The report comes from a regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency. Many believe the information was not disclosed as a result of pressure from lobbyists and political figures at the national level. 

According to the PowerPoint, the regional mid-Atlantic office of the EPA did not agree with the national decision to close the investigation in Dimock. Susan Phillips, Energy Reporter for StateImpact PA and shale gas reporter and author, Tom Wilber explained the difficult nature of regulating fracking and natural gas.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:32 pm
Wed July 31, 2013

Local Jazz Pioneer is Living Legacy

Saxophonist and educator established, in 1969, one of only a few curriculum-based jazz studies programs at a major university.
Credit University of Pittsburgh School of Music

Multi-instrumental jazz musician Dr. Nathan Davis is the founder of the Jazz Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh and the Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert.  He recently announced his retirement from Pitt and reflected back on his career in the United States and in Europe, and his legacy in the world of jazz.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:53 pm
Tue July 30, 2013

The Passing of Former Governor William Scranton

William Scranton was a Republican politician with a unique outlook on the role of government.
Credit Congressional Pictorial Directory / Wikipedia

William Scranton, former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, died Sunday night at the age of 96. He served as governor from 1962-66, carrying a political outlook that has set him apart from his political party, both then and now.

According to Terry Madonna, Director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, Scranton’s approach to governing was that of a “Kennedy Republican,” one who believed that the government should play an active role in helping the lives of others. Though Scranton was a man who was, as Madonna puts it “born to the manor,” or born into exorbitant wealth, he was instilled with a sense of responsibility for his community at an early age.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:42 pm
Tue July 30, 2013

Can Community Colleges Save the Economy?

How important are community colleges to an American education?
Credit CCAC North Library

Though they are sometimes mocked and often overlooked in the conversation about post-secondary education, community colleges are playing an important role in the reinvention of the American workforce.

With the costs of public and private universities skyrocketing and a changing economy that demands of a bevy of new skills, community colleges have become the primary option for many students seeking to gain crucial skills at a lower cost.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:19 pm
Tue July 30, 2013

Speaking Volumes on Essential Pittsburgh: Leah Samuel

Investigative reporter Leah Samuel says journalists would do well to emulate the curiosity of children.
Credit PublicSource

Freelance reporter Leah Samuel writes about social and environmental issues for PublicSource and others. As a journalist, and as a reader, she finds the lessons of history are best learned from the margins.

Essential Pittsburgh
3:39 pm
Tue July 30, 2013

Digging Deeper Into the Business of Farmers Markets

Farmers markets provide a great place for local producers to test out their business ideas.
Credit Rhonda Schuldt / Local Goodness


For many, farmers markets are one of the wonderful diversions of the summer season, where practical shoppers and foodies alike can peruse the offerings of local farmers. They provide community, frugality and an opportunity to skip the supermarket. But what are the business benefits of participating in a farmers market?

According to business contributor Rebecca Harris, the sellers in a farmers market get to see some clear benefits, one of which is the direct connection to their customers.

“It’s direct consumer marketing and the farmers get to decide on the pricing,” which helps them ensure they get fair pay for their hard labor.

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:55 pm
Mon July 29, 2013

Why Does the Pittsburgh Police Residency Requirement Matter?

Commander Rashall Brackney of the Pittsburgh police speaks with protesters in the Hill District
Credit South / Pittsburgh for Trayvon

A group of Pittsburghers gathered in the Hill District two weeks ago to protest the acquittal of George Zimmerman and to show their disdain for the American legal system. Commander Rashall Brackney was one of the officers who patrolled the demonstration.  The protestors spoke with Brackney throughout the evening, and it became evident that she had personal connections with many of the men and women sitting in the street.  She negotiated with the group on many issues and the protest continued peacefully. 

City Paper Editor Chris Potter wrote in his op-ed “Hitting Home,” that “her ties clearly helped defuse tensions on Centre Avenue that night.”

Brackney is a resident of the city of Pittsburgh and Potter points to this fact as an important element of the peaceful demonstration that night.  She had connections in the community in which she lived and therefore was able to deal with a potentially tumultuous situation in a calm manner.  But the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) in the city of Pittsburgh says that lifting the standing residency requirement for officers would make recruitment and retention easier, but many taxpayers feel differently.

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