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 
Domer48 / Wikipedia

2016 marks the 100th year anniversary of the “Easter Rising”, the pivotal event that led to the establishment of modern-day Ireland.  Artists, teachers and poets organized a revolution in Dublin in protest of British rule which, even though they lost, laid the groundwork for the Irish Revolution and eventually the creation of the Irish Republic.  Those with Irish heritage continue to recognize the date as a significant time for Irish nationalism and celebrate throughout the world.

Bill Thompson / flickr

Two gunmen are still at large following the deadly shooting of five people and an unborn child in Wilkinsburg last night. Police say four women and a man were shot ambush-style during a party and three others were injured and taken to area hospitals. 

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Black girls in the United States make up 16 percent of female students, but make up almost half of girls facing school-related arrests. They are more likely to face harsh disciplinary action and drop out of school. In some instances their behavior can be seen as violent and aggressive on the surface, while deeper issues of trauma trigger these reactions.

Monique Morris, author of  “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in School,”, said perceptions of black girls in school leads to increased surveillance of behavior and harsher discipline, a trend which Dr. Morris stated, the girls do notice.

Mayor Peduto On PWSA Issues And City Congress Visit

Mar 9, 2016
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Our monthly conversation with Mayor Peduto will focus on what's happening at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority as customer complaints mount over overbilling and poor customer service. The mayor will also talk about the National League of Cities Congressional City Congress he took part in earlier this week, the upcoming affordable housing forums, and the search for the next schools superintendent.

William Penn Centennial Pays Tribute To Storied Past

Mar 8, 2016
Emily Stock / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh’s “Grande Dame,” the Omni William Penn Hotel, celebrates its 100th birthday this year. The downtown hotel’s rich history will be remembered through both public and VIP events this week. Bob Page, director of sales and marketing for the William Penn, previewed the events from the building’s lobby.

The Challenges Of Repurposing Industrial Sites

Mar 8, 2016
Jon Dawson / flickr

The Waterfront is an example of a former industrial site that has been redeveloped. As developers ponder the future of the Shenango Coke Plant site, what are the challenges involved in redeveloping industrial sites?  We’ll pose that question to Donald Smith, president of the Regional Industrial Development Corporation (RIDC) and Reid Frazier, environmental reporter for the Allegheny Front. We’ll also ask Jim Thompson, deputy director of environmental health for the Allegheny County Health Department, what concerns he has and what he’ll be looking for as they tear down the plant.


In the wake of the news of First Lady Nancy Reagan’s death, we spoke with author Kiron Skinner. From the private papers of President Reagan, Skinner compiled the New York Times bestseller Reagan: A Life in Letters. She talked about the Reagan’s correspondences to their loved ones.

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.

Braddock Mayor John Fetterman On His Senate Run

Mar 7, 2016
John Fetterman / Facebook

 In our continuing series of interviews with candidates for U.S. Senate, we sit down with Braddock Mayor John Fetterman. Known as much for his tattoos and bouncer's physique as his Harvard Master's degree in Public Policy, Fetterman is a non-traditional candidate with real chance of winning the Democratic primary. We'll hear what he has to say on a variety of issues.

Art + Feminism / Wikipedia

In 2011, Wikipedia’s oversight group, the Wikimedia Foundation, released the results of their first semi-annual survey. They found that only nine percent of all editors were female, exposing a significant gender gap among those creating content and suggesting a potential bias toward the articles available on the site. This weekend, Pittsburgh will hold an “Edit-a-Thon” where they’ll attempt to improve existing articles and create ones. Art critic and Wikipedian Alexandra Oliver and independent curator Vicky Clark are hosting the event and share their expectations for the meet-up.

Diagnosing And Treating A Pulmonary Embolism

Mar 4, 2016
Yale Rosen / flickr

Pulmonary embolism is the third leading cause of cardiovascular death in the United States after heart attack and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But “PE” is also treatable and preventable, so why does the mortality rate continue to climb?

Changing The Way Pennsylvania Recycles E-Waste

Mar 3, 2016
Ruocaled / flickr

Since its passage in 2010, the Covered Device Recycling Act has worked to keep electronics, including TVs and computers, out of landfills.  As the Act nears final implementation stages, however, it’s become increasingly difficult for Pennsylvanians to find organizations that will take their e-waste at an affordable cost. Justin Stockdale, Regional Director of the Pennsylvania Resource Council, says the CDRA is creating problems for his organization’s annual “Hard-to-Recycle” event. He’ll join us live along with Representative Chris Ross of Chester County, one of the original sponsors of CDRA, who is collaborating with other lawmakers to find a solution.

Supreme Court Debates Pennsylvania Death Penalty Case

Mar 3, 2016
Susan Walsh / AP Images

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille hearing an appeal of the same case that, as Philadelphia District Attorney, he had approved to proceed on the death penalty. University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris weighs in.

Wesleyan University

Today's young adults pressured into pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics might be left to wonder about the relevancy of liberal arts in the modern world.

Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University in Connecticut and author of the book Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, told Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer that liberal arts educations enhance not only students' subjects of study, but also how that subject relates to the world around them.

What Was It Like Being A Member Of The Black Panther Party?

Mar 2, 2016
Uncredited / AP Images

With the recent release of the PBS documentary on the Black Panther Party, we wondered what it was like being a part of the movement during the civil rights era. T. Rashad Byrdsong is the President and CEO of the Community Empowerment Association in Homewood. He’s been working for years to combat violence in Pittsburgh through strengthening family systems and educating individuals on how to use their resources. He’s also a member of the Black Panther Party and served in Vietnam. He joins us live to tell us about his experience.

Cruising The Lincoln In A Lincoln

Mar 1, 2016
Chuck Beard / Pittsburgh Magazine

For Chuck Beard, art director for Pittsburgh Magazine, traveling the Lincoln Highway wasn’t about the destination, it was about the journey. Traveling east towards Gettysburg in a 20-foot-long vintage Lincoln Continental Mark V weighing over three tons , Beard was in search of two things - chili and pie.

Allies Working To Close The Circle Of Poverty

Mar 1, 2016
Circles Greater Pittsburgh / Facebook

There are a number of programs designed to help people out of poverty. Circles East Liberty offers something different in a city where the poverty rate is over 30% in some neighborhoods.  We’ll discover how Circles East Liberty is making a difference in the lives of some city residents with Tammy Thompson, site facilitator for Circles East Liberty.

Shaping Pittsburgh Into A Great American City

Mar 1, 2016

Weekend All Things Considered host Michel Martin is coming to Pittsburgh. NPR Presents Going There with Michel Martin: Reinventing the American City will be an evening of conversation and performance at the August Wilson Center. Joining us with a preview of the event is NPR's  Michel Martin.

Preparing And Retaining Urban Teachers

Feb 29, 2016
Norton Gusky / flickr

A 2015 report by the National Center for Education Statistics stated that 17 percent, or one out of six, of teachers leave the profession within four years, with one out of ten doing so after the first year alone. These high rates are even worse for urban schools, with Pittsburgh Public Schools seeing an average turnover rate of 22 percent over the last three years. 90.5 WESA’s Kevin Gavin spoke with Shirley Johnson, professor of education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Randy Bartlett, senior director of teacher residency at Propel Charter Schools, about what can be done to better prepare urban educators.

Bill Hildabrand

Staff turnover rates are a consistent problem when recruiting teacher talent. How do you prepare future teachers studying education for the challenges and rigors of urban schooling? 90.5 WESA’s Kevin Gavin posed the question to Bill Hildabrand, seventh grade teacher at Chartiers Valley Middle School, and Lacey Hohl, second grade teacher at Faison Elementary School.

Life Of Learning Special Focusing On Urban Teaching

Feb 29, 2016
Al Kruse / flickr

Teaching is both challenging and rewarding. Whether you teach in an urban or suburban setting each has its unique challenges. As part of WESA’s Life of Learning Initiative today’s Essential Pittsburgh focuses on teachers in urban school districts.

Najaa Young

Currently sitting on display in the lobby of the City Council building is an exhibit honoring African American filmmakers with ties to Pittsburgh. The exhibit, known as “A History of Film,” features writers, directors, producers, and more. Among those honored is Najaa Young, whose most recent movie, “Blood First,” was shot in the Homestead area. Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer sat down with Young to discuss her thoughts on the honor and her history making movies.

Beating Hollywood: Crafting The Perfect Screenplay

Feb 26, 2016
Steve Cuden

Thousands of screenplays make the rounds in Hollywood, in the hopes of being made into a film or TV episode. Many are rejected. However, Steve Cuden, author of Beating Hollywood: Tips for Creating Unforgettable Screenplays,  has created a “how to” book on screenplays. Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer spoke with Cuden about screenwriting.

3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets / Dogwoof Productions

On November 23, 2012, 17-year-old Jordan Davis, a black high school student, and three friends were listening to loud music inside a car at a gas station in Jacksonville, FL.  Michael Dunn, a 47-year-old white male, confronted Davis and his friends about the music. An argument ensued between Dunn and the young men.  Dunn responded by retrieving a loaded handgun from his car and fired ten shots at Davis and his friends’ car until it was out of range.  The altercation resulted in the death of Jordan Davis. The other young men escaped injury.

The documentary “3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets” examines the shooting, subsequent trial, the impact of the effects on the Davis family.

Starting Point For A Conversation About Race

Feb 25, 2016
Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

Race remains one of the most difficult topics to address in our society. From the Black Lives Matter movement to current presidential election discussions on race inevitably come up. Where should a conversation on race begin? Our guest, Larry Davis, dean and founding director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center of Race and Social Problems, addresses this issue in his new book Why Are They Angry With Us? Essays on Race.

Keith Srakocic / AP Images

Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Bob Casey has returned from a trip to the Middle East to explore, research and investigate the issue of terrorism financing. We'll ask him if his visit to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey altered his approach to curtailing ISIS and what he would like to see President Obama and Congress do.

Thinking Outside The Lunch Box At Project Lunch Tray

Feb 24, 2016
Katie Schratz / Community Kitchen Pittsburgh

School lunches have come a long way from the days of mystery meat and tater tots passing as a nutritious lunch. These days, the emphasis is on fresh and healthy foods.

Community Kitchen Pittsburgh’s Project Lunch Tray will host a two-hour competition for teams of student chefs to create a school lunch from scratch with the help of a chef mentor. The event, free and open to the public for tastings, takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Smallman Gallery in the Strip District.



2016 Poised To Be Profitable For Pittsburgh's Film Industry

Feb 24, 2016
Jay Phanaga / flickr

It’s the week of the Oscars and not only Hollywood is abuzz with excitement. Since Pennsylvania’s film tax credit was restored, Pittsburgh has been drawing attention from movie studios and was even listed as one of the top smaller cities for film making by Movie Maker Magazine. Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer spoke with Dawn Keezer, CEO of the Pittsburgh Film Office, to learn the impact a growing film industry has on the city.

What Will It Take To Close Guantanamo Bay?

Feb 24, 2016
Ben Fox / AP Images

President Obama’s spoke Tuesday about U.S. operations at Guantanamo Bay military detention center, saying the facility was “a stain our broader record” and “does not advance our national security.” His address aligns with his 2008 campaign promise to close the prison.  Haider Ala Hamoudi, associate professor of Law and associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at the University of Pittsburgh, is an expert on Guantanamo Bay and shares his thoughts on the facility’s closure and politics surrounding its operation.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

This Saturday, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Manfred Honeck, presents a special anniversary concert at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland. It was 120 years ago on February 27, 1896, that the Pittsburgh Orchestra played its very first notes as an ensemble. We'll talk with Manfred Honeck and Melia Tourangeau, the new president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Jamie Martin / AP Images

By now, you have probably heard that Pulitzer Prize winning author Harper Lee died this past Friday at the age of 89. Her most famous book, "To Kill A Mockingbird," is one of the most celebrated novels of the 20th century.  Her only other published work, "Go Set a Watchman," came out this past July. 

To celebrate her life and legacy, Tony Norman, book editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a piece titled, "She Wrote the Book We All Read in High School."  He joined Paul Guggenheimer on Essential Pittsburgh to discuss her timeless writing.