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.

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  • What stories are we missing? Send your thoughts to esspgh@wesa.fm 
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Essential Pittsburgh
3:40 pm
Tue July 23, 2013

A History of Reigning in the Banks

Could reinstating a Great Depression era financial regulation help save the financial sector?
Credit US House of Representatives / Wikipedia


In an era when big banks are mired in complex and often risky investment schemes, could the reinstatement of a Great Depression era financial law help curb the financial sector’s speculative trading? That’s the discussion being had in congress, as Senators John McCain and Elizabeth Warren push to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, a piece of depression era legislation that creates a separation between commercial banking and investment banking. From the perspective of Michael Haley, a professor and H.J. Heinz Endowed Chair of business management at Point Park University, reinstating the act could at least help to simplify the complex banking system currently in place.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:26 pm
Tue July 23, 2013

Overplaying Their Hand in Egypt

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood failed to govern from the middle, says Professor Ross Harrison
Credit Wilson Dias/ Wikimedia Commons

With Egypt’s government in turmoil yet again,Georgetown professor Ross Harrison believes that one thing is for certain: the recent overthrow of Mohammad Morsi’s presidency came as a result of the Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to overplay its hand and alienate many of the upstart, secular groups that helped elect him in the first place.

“There was an expectation in the street that he would govern more broadly than it did,” Harrison says. Instead, Morsi allocated power to himself and appealed only to the extremely religious elements that make up the Muslim Brotherhood. The question now, he says, is “whether [the Muslim Brotherhood] becomes part of the [new] coalition or whether they go back underground.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:20 pm
Tue July 23, 2013

Speaking Volumes on Essential Pittsburgh: Andrea Laurion

Credit Josh Raulerson/ 90.5 WESA

Writer, improviser, and performer Andrea Laurion lives in Bloomfield. She talks with 90.5 WESA Morning Edition host Josh Raulerson about the inspiration she receives from reading non-fiction narratives.

Essential Pittsburgh
3:18 pm
Tue July 23, 2013

The Business of Ice Cream with Rebecca Harris

What's this year's frozen treat craze? Frozen Yogurt, a.k.a. Froyo.
Credit Flickr


In the world of “frozen dessert products,” ice cream is still king, reports business contributor Rebecca Harris. Though recent years have seen a rise in the popularity of numerous frozen treat fads, the U.S. still consumed more ice cream than anything else by a long shot. In 2012, 899 million gallons of the frozen treat were doled out in cones, cups, pints, and tubs, compared to 467 million gallons of low fat ice cream and only 74 million gallons of frozen yogurt.

If those numbers aren’t eye popping, think of it this way: the US market for ice cream has been more than $10 billion. And according to Harris, “It’s all about the tub. Well over half the US $12 billion in annual sales is served in pints or half gallons.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:34 pm
Mon July 22, 2013

Donora Plant Houses Huge Volumes of Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizer

Credit Martha Rial / PublicSource

After 30 tons of fertilizer detonated in West, Texas last April, investigators are looking into the cause of the explosion that killed fifteen people, including twelve firefighters and emergency responders.  PublicSource reporter Bill Heltzel has been investigating chemical plant Dyno Nobel in Donora, PA, and gauging the town’s understanding of hazardous substance safety.  United Steel Workers safety officer Kim Nibarger represents union workers at the plant.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:47 pm
Mon July 22, 2013

American Made Movie Reminds Country of Manufacturing Roots

Credit Daniel Horowitz / Life is My Movie Entertainment Co.

In a country with a great history of manufacturing and exporting goods, many believe that the best way to support the American economy is to buy locally.  Filmmakers Vincent Vittorio and Nathaniel Thomas McGill are on a 32-day tour with their documentary American Made Movie, in which they highlight companies that produce goods in the United States.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:19 pm
Mon July 22, 2013

Can the Steel City Be A Fútbol Town, Too?

Pittsburgh River Hounds hope for more young fans and their families to attend games this season.
Credit Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

With their new stadium in Station Square, the Pittsburgh River Hounds are hoping that professional soccer will finally score in the “City of Champions.” The club, founded in 1999, is a part of the USL Pro League and has not had a successful history in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette Sports Writer Emeritus Bob Dvorchak explains that soccer has been unable to share in the popularity of the city’s other professional sports because it is the least established.  Despite high numbers at Steelers, Penguins and Pirates games, Pittsburgh may not be big enough to sustain a fourth professional sport.

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:17 pm
Fri July 19, 2013

Rolling Stone Cover Controversy

The August issue of Rolling Stone magazine
Credit Rolling Stone Magazine / Wikipedia

One of this week’s leading media stories is the controversy surrounding the August issue of Rolling Stone magazine. The publication, known for featuring in-depth profiles of rock musicians, actors and politicians, is courting controversy with its decision to feature Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover. The decision has sparked outrage across the country and started a backlash against Rolling Stone.

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:09 pm
Fri July 19, 2013

City Paper Critic Says "Pacific Rim is So Much Better Than the Trailer"

Did Pacific Rim live up to your expectations?
Credit Pacific Rim / Facebook

A diverse array of films are hitting screens around town. One film of note for the average Pittsburgher is A New York Heartbeat. Pittsburgh City Paper film critic, Al Hoff says movie makers attempted to make Pittsburgh look like Brooklyn in the 1950s. When Hoff asked the film creator why the film was shot in Pittsburgh, she was told it's because of the city’s “gritty alleys, rusty bridges and lack of contemporary graffiti.” Hoff describes the film as a small-scale movie, with a low budget feel, but not bad if you’re looking for an off-beat love story and views of Pittsburgh.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:30 pm
Fri July 19, 2013

Rare Cars & High Speeds at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix

Vintage cars are back to race in Schenley Park this weekend
Credit PghVintageGP / Flickr

In the last week you may have noticed classic cars rolling through the East End or parked with their hoods propped up and on display. This Saturday some of those vintage cars will race a 2.3 mile street course through Schenley Park’s many twists and turns, at speeds of more than 100mph in the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. Board member and racer Mike Zappa says he’s prepped his 1962 MGB roadster by checking safety wires, bolts, tires and anyplace fluids could leak. Overall, for the vintage race car owner, Zappa says it takes two things to really prepare a 50 year old roadster to race, a lot of patience and a lot of time.

Zappa says while he’s able to dedicate the time, “the patience runs short because you want things to get done sooner instead of later.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:38 pm
Thu July 18, 2013

Voter ID On Trial: An Update From the Capitol

The ongoing voter ID law case is moving away from claims that the law will prevent voter fraud.
Credit Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr


Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law has come back to trial in the Commonwealth court, and both sides are making serious plays.  WITF’s  capital reporter Mary Wilson says the first few days of testimony were brimming with testimony from those challenging the laws, but talk of voter fraud -- one of the issues legislators emphasized most when passing the law -- was surprisingly limited.

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:25 pm
Thu July 18, 2013

Internships: Drawing the Line Between Experience & Exploitation

Hundreds of students flock to this internship & job fair at Penn State University
Credit Penn State News / Flickr

Is scoring the ideal unpaid internship a boon or a financial burden for college students looking to break into the job market? A recent ruling by a New York court against Fox Searchlight Pictures over their misuse of interns has many questioning the value of doing unpaid work for credit or experience. And leaving employers wondering what sort of labor they can ask an intern to do.

According to Ben Bratman, an associate professor who specializes in employment law at the University of Pittsburgh Law School, what separates an unpaid internship from exploitation is the learning element. While making copies from time to time isn’t illegal, what some firms are guilty of is using interns “to replace what an employee would normally do.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:41 pm
Wed July 17, 2013

Former Whistleblower Says Exposing Truth Can Be Lonely & Daunting

Former whistleblower James Holzrichter gives advice to Edward Snowden and any other person labeled as a whistleblower.
Credit Screenshot of the film Prism / Wikipedia

While working as internal auditor for Northrop Grumman, James Holzrichter noticed that his company was falsely inflating defense costs in order to receive more money from the government.  He describes the experience of being faced with a daunting decision to either turn in his findings to higher authorities or keep quiet with the knowledge that he was working for a dishonest company.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:23 pm
Wed July 17, 2013

What Lies Beneath: The Internet's Dark Side

The Undernet is an anonymous network used for everything from arms dealers and narcotics traders to journalists in censored countries.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Beneath a sea of hashtags, behind the walls of Facebook users and beyond the top ten hits of a Google search is a set of websites and resources on the Internet called the “Undernet.” Also known as the “Dark Web,” these sites are not indexed by search engines and can provide complete anonymity to users.

Carnegie Mellon University Professor and Network Security Expert David Brumley explains this hidden Internet and the many legal, illegal and beneficial actions that occur within this web.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:14 pm
Wed July 17, 2013

Duquesne Professor Develops Technology That Uncovers Rowling's Pseudonym

Joula has developed a technology that uses an author's vocabulary and style to determine possible pseudonyms.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Duquesne University Professor Patrick Joula received an email from the London Sunday Times last week.  The Times was asking him to utilize an authorial identification technology he had been developing for years in order to determine if the new crime novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling was written by the famous J.K. Rowling. The paper had received an anonymous tweet indicating the author, Robert Galbraith, was actually Rowling. 

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:29 pm
Tue July 16, 2013

Expanding Domestic Partner Benefits in Pittsburgh

Bruce Kraus is Pittsburgh City Council member for District 3
Credit City Council District 3 Office

For Pittsburgh city councilman Bruce Kraus, the reason he introduced the Equal Benefits Ordinance to council can be summed up in one word: equality.

“It’s the right thing to do,” says Kraus of the ordinance, which will require private companies contracted with the city for jobs of more than $250,000 to extend benefits to domestic partners, including those of the same sex. “It sends a message of inclusiveness,” he adds.

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:28 pm
Tue July 16, 2013

LGBT Health Concerns

Dr. Ron Stall
Credit UPMC

According to Dr. Ron Stall, director of the Center for LGBT Health Research at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, the dearth of investment in sexual health research, especially for the LGBT community, is something of an American tradition. Primarily due to the hot-button nature of conversations about sexuality and sexual practices, “the US has been slow to invest in sexual health in general.”

This additional roadblock makes the advances that have been made in the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV all the more impressive. According to Stall, thanks to breakthrough drug research, HIV “has now become a chronic manageable disease much like diabetes,” for those who are aware of their illness and have access to drugs.

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:19 pm
Tue July 16, 2013

The Business of Manufacturing With Rebecca Harris

Could additive manufacturing, be the future of manufacturing?
Credit Amy Buser / Flickr

The resurgent manufacturing sector has been a boon in America’s struggling economy, but women are being left out of the action. In her second segment on the upswing in manufacturing jobs in the US, business contributor Rebecca Harris talks about the way that the new world of manufacturing is keying off of cutting edge innovation to create jobs.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:33 pm
Mon July 15, 2013

Traditional Gender Roles Playing Smaller Role in Modern Matrimony

The distribution of chores in the home are shifting away from traditional gender role expectations to ability and interest in tasks.
Credit Shelley Panzarella / flickr

Watch out June and Ward, traditional marriage is rapidly evolving and research indicates that typical gender-based expectations in the household are becoming obsolete for couples as they make the decision to marry or cohabitate.

Dr. Connie Lappa, psychotherapist and adjunct professor at Robert Morris University and The University of Pittsburgh and Dr. Christine Whelan, visiting Assistant Professor in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Sociology share their findings on modern matrimony and the most successful relationships.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:23 pm
Mon July 15, 2013

Sports Talk with Bob: Baseball's All Star Game Turns 80

The Pittsburgh Pirates are a member of the National League and have hosted the All Star Game five times since its inception in 1933.
Credit Alan English / flickr

Tomorrow night at Citi Field in New York, the American League will play the National League in the 80th annual All Star Game. Pittsburgh Post Gazette Sports Writer Emeritus Bob Dvorchak explains the origins of the game in Chicago, Pittsburgh’s experience hosting the All Stars and the modern character of the game.

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:55 pm
Fri July 12, 2013

Are Gratuities Becoming Gratuitous?

Are you noticing more tip jars on the counters of businesses you frequent?
Credit David Dugdale / Flickr

A recent article in the online magazine Slate called Tipping is an Abomination calls for the end of this practice. It’s a custom that originated in Europe. It transferred across the ocean when wealthy Americans returned from the continent. At first is it was slow to catch on but now it seems tip jars are as ubiquitous as cell phones.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:13 pm
Fri July 12, 2013

Local Goodness: Roadtrip for Ripe Cherries and Erie Beaches

U-Pick Cherries at West Gate Farms in Erie, PA
Rhonda Schuldt Local Goodness

Nestled in the northern edge of Erie County is a region of rich and fertile farmland slowly becoming recognized for grape growing, vineyards and a seasonal favorite: cherries. Rhonda Schuldt of Local Goodness suggests some favorite destinations in Erie, PA including local diners, beaches and fruit farms.

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Essential Pittsburgh
8:18 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

Steelers Former Offensive Linemen Speaks Out About Stigma of Epilepsy

Alan Faneca was an All-Pro Guard for the Steelers
Credit Steel City Hobbies / Wikipedia


Former Steelers offensive lineman and all-pro guard, Alan Faneca returns to Pittsburgh this week, as honorary chairman of the Epilepsy Foundation of Central and Western Pennsylvania’s 25th Family Fun Run and Walk, taking place Saturday.

Faneca was diagnosed with epilepsy as a teenager in Texas. And despite the condition, he played 13 seasons in the NFL, 10 of which with the Steelers, including a victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XL.

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Essential Pittsburgh
8:17 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

Reporting Wage Violations at Pennsylvania Hotels

The Fairmont Hotel Pittsburgh
Credit Martha Rial / PublicSource


Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the country -- behind Texas, Alabama and Florida -- for the number of hotels with labor law violations, according to the Department of Labor and a recent PublicSource story. This includes wage and child labor violations.

PublicSource Reporter Leah Samuel says because many hotel workers are low skilled and in the hospitality industry, where tips may be given, they’re especially vulnerable to wage violations.

“In Pennsylvania, you can actually pay someone as low as $2.83 an hour if they receive tips,”  Samuel explains. So even if a hotel worker normally gets paid at or above the minimum wage, when it comes to overtime, the rate might be 1.5 times that $2.83, which is illegal.

“It’s supposed to be 1.5 times the regular wage they would receive, minus something called the ‘tip credit’.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
8:17 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

Central New York State of Mind

Keuka Lake is one of the many bodies of water that makes up the Finger Lakes region of New York State
Credit Darren McGee / Finger Lakes Region

Upstate New York covers a lot of territory. From the Adirondacks to the Thousand Islands there's a lot to see in the Empire State. Travel contributor Elaine Labalme scopes out the central New York region, from Cooperstown to the Finger Lakes.

“The Finger Lakes region is fairly close to western Pennsylvania and there’s lots of arts and recreation you’ll want to access there and it’s an easy trip from Pittsburgh,” says Labalme.

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