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
4:45 pm
Mon September 9, 2013

Reducing the Impact of Concussions

Should young kids play full contact sports?
Credit Jim Danvers / Flickr

Americans have become increasingly concerned about contact sports and whether they should be played by children.

Dr. Anthony Kontos, UPMC Concussion Program Assistant Director of Research, says this may be a knee jerk reaction to increased awareness of injuries and recent NFL lawsuits.

His latest research focuses on concussions in youth football for players under the age of 12. The studies confirm that concussions primarily occur during games. One finding that Kontos says may surprise people is the fact that 8, 9 and 10-year-olds who’ve played tackle football incur fewer concussions than previously thought.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:08 pm
Mon September 9, 2013

Military Level Technology Protects Athletes At All Levels

Unequal technologies puts their special padding in more than just football helmets. Baseball players, soccer players and even golfers can be protected from potential concussions.
Credit Unequal Technologies

According to Rob Vito CEO of Unequal Technologies, his company mission is to protect soldiers and athletes from severe blunt force trauma. The idea began ten years ago when, as a professor at Penn State, a student asked Vito, “What if you could make a kevlar vest lighter, thinner and more flexible?”

Since then, Vito and his company have designed Unequal gear for high profile celebrities such as Sidney Crosby, Troy Polamalu, Michael Vick, Tony Romo and even Tom Cruise. When their material is placed inside a helmet or layered into protective apparel, Vito says it may reduce the severity index of impact by 50 percent.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:48 pm
Mon September 9, 2013

Sports N'at with Bob Dvorchack

Credit Ben Beard / Flickr

Sports contributor, Bob Dvorchak jokes that Pittsburgh Pirate fans seem to have no idea how to live in a world where the Bucs are a winning ball club.  For the first time in 20 years the Pirates do not have a losing record.  

Dvorchak also comments on the NFL's $756 million settlement with former players who suffered head trauma on the field.  

While the money an immediate help to the former players, Dvorchak says, “It [the settlement] doesn’t make everyone whole. It's a payment to get it off the books.” 

Essential Pittsburgh
4:01 pm
Fri September 6, 2013

Pittsburgh Innovations in Energy

Southwest PA has become an energy hub, what innovations are being fueled by the industry?
Credit Ari Moore / Flickr

When it comes to Pittsburgh’s growing energy landscape, innovation does not usually come to mind right away. But the region has been at the forefront of important energy innovations at the private, federal, and university level for more than 100 years.

Two events in the coming weeks aim to bring these worlds together, the Enterprise Forum Pittsburgh and the 3rd annual Energy and Innovation Conference.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:06 pm
Fri September 6, 2013

Graham Nash Continues to Compose Music With A Cause

Singer-songwriter Graham Nash comes to Pittsburgh on Sept. 14.
Credit Matthew Harris / Wikipedia

Legendary singer-songwriter Graham Nash is revered for his prolific musicality, his inviolable commitment to human rights and his ability to seamlessly intertwine his compositions with worthy causes.

Nash is touring the East coast with keyboardist James Raymond and guitar player Shane Fontaine, playing old favorites and new tunes. They will be visiting the Carnegie Library Music Hall on Sept. 14.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:53 pm
Fri September 6, 2013

Preserving the Harvest with Shrubs

A shrub drink with raspberry and lime
Credit Molly Sheridan / Flickr

With the growing season coming to a close and a surplus of fruits ready for harvest, there are some interesting ways to consume and preserve your rapidly ripening produce. Food and drink writer, Hal B. Klein suggests using shrubs to put overripe fruits to good use.

Shrubs are tangy drinks that let you preserve ripe fruits and vegetables with sweetened vinegar. The concept started in ancient Arabic culture as a way of preserving food before the advent of refrigeration. They were also popular in colonial American times.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:46 pm
Thu September 5, 2013

The Steeler Way: What It Takes to Be a Star in This Town

Steelers owner Dan Rooney
Credit Home of Chen / Flickr

The Pittsburgh Steelers are notorious for their intense local and national fans, their endless arsenal of black and gold apparel, and their acclaimed six Super Bowl Championships.

Fans may not know, however, that the players are expected to behave under a standard referred to as “The Steeler Way.”

“If you’re a Steeler and you stay out of trouble, you’re a star in this town. That will stay with you,” says journalist Ben Schmitt, who recently wrote about the concept for Pittsburgh Quarterly.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:26 pm
Thu September 5, 2013

Black & Gold Devotion and the Steeler Fan Diaspora

How would you describe the ultimate Steeler fan?
Credit Patrick Bird / flickr

For Steelers fans living outside the city, it isn’t hard to find a nearby Steelers bar. But with more than 700 in the United States, Pittsburgh devotees can connect across the country to cheer on the iconic football franchise.

This diaspora of fans grew out of the economic decline of the 1970s and '80s when many Pittsburghers had to leave the city to find jobs.

But as PRX reporter Lauren Ober observes, “You can leave Pittsburgh, but the black and gold never leaves you.”

Black and Gold Religion

From wrapping newborns in Terrible Towels to black and gold wedding cakes, Steelers fans are notorious for their passionate devotion.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:10 pm
Thu September 5, 2013

Traveling with the Steelers

Taking in a Steelers away game? Check out places to visit when they're on the road.
Credit James Willamor / Flickr

For devoted fans who follow the Pittsburgh Steelers when they're on the road, travel contributor Elaine Labalme suggests some places to check out while cheering on the black and gold.

From Otto Pizzeria in NYC, to the Harley Davidson Museum in Wisconsin, and Boston’s Freedom Trail, there are some great sights to take in outside the stadiums.

Essential Pittsburgh
4:44 pm
Wed September 4, 2013

Montgomery County Marriage Licenses Challenged in Court

A clerk in Montgomery County has been issuing marriage licenses to LGBT couples since July, in defiance of state law. The official was challenged in court today.
Credit Doug Muth / Wikipedia

Officials in Montgomery County have issued more than 100 marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and currently Pennsylvania has a law that deems same-sex marriage illegal.

The question many are asking is what will happen to these marriage licenses? Jules Lobel, a constitutional law Professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, attempts to give some insight on the marriage licenses.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:36 pm
Wed September 4, 2013

Increasing Need for Mental Health Professionals in College Counseling Centers

Students are using psychiatric medicines from a very young age. Colleges & Universities need enough mental health resources to provide proper counseling for these students.
Credit Kiran Foster / Flickr

On college campuses across the country, mental health is becoming an increasing concern. In the past year, one in five students have received a psychiatric diagnosis or been treated for mental health issues.

As a result, there is a rising demand for mental health professionals to provide the proper treatment for students. According to Tevya Zukor, Director of the University of Pittsburgh Counseling Center, there's an increased need because of the de-stigmatization of mental health issues among the public.

He says students are seeking treatment at earlier ages and many come into college with a history of mental health treatment. A second reason is that in the past 10 to 15 years there have been huge advancements in psychotropic medicine.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:53 pm
Wed September 4, 2013

Area 51 Questions Persist

A NASA satellite image of Area 51 in Nevada circa 2000
Credit NASA Landsat / Wikipedia

Late last month, the CIA released a classified report on the U2 spy plane. The report confirmed what many people have believed for decades. A secret military facility known as Area 51 does indeed exist.

Robert Marshall, program development coordinator of the Buhl Planetarium and Observatory says Area 51 is essentially a Department of Defense studio, where prototypes are tested.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:33 pm
Tue September 3, 2013

Senator Casey Says US Needs To Take Action in Syria

PA US Senator Bob Casey talks about what actions America should take in Syria
Credit Senator Bob Casey

As classified congressional briefings continue today, Pennsylvania US Senator Bob Casey says he has no doubt that Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against Syrian citizens.

Casey is a member of the National Security Working Group and thinks the United States needs to take an aggressive approach with Assad, by targeting the assets which allow Syria to maintain its military superiority in the region.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:38 pm
Tue September 3, 2013

The Diet Industry is Big Business

People who have lost and kept off 30 lbs or more suggest working out for 150 minutes per week.
Credit Lululemon Athletica / flickr

As obesity rates rise in the United States, so too do the amount of citizens annually attempting to diet. Rebecca Harris, Director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University, says studies show at any one time, America has an estimated 108 million people on diets.

She notes that most are women, most make four or five attempts per year to diet and an overwhelming majority are trying to lose weight by themselves, without a plan or program.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:08 pm
Tue September 3, 2013

Weight Limits Used to Preserve Structurally Deficient Bridges

The Liberty and Birmingham bridges will be following new weight limit guidelines. How will this affect your commute?
Credit saeru / flickr

Pittsburgh takes great pride in being known as “the city of bridges” but what most Pittsburghers do not know is that Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of bridges classified as “structurally deficient.”

Bridges are inspected at least once every two years in Pennsylvania and as the bridges are inspected they are given a rating from zero to nine. A bridge with a rating of five or higher is considered ok and a bridge with a score of four or lower is deemed structurally deficient.

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:02 pm
Fri August 30, 2013

Tougher Competition for the Post-Big East Panthers

The University of Pittsburgh Panthers join the ACC. How will this change the way the team is run?
Credit Pallyboy33 / Flickr


This Labor Day marks the beginning of a new era of football for the University of Pittsburgh.

After a storied history as members of the Big East Conference, the Pittsburgh Panthers will face stiff competition in their first game as members of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Panthers will play against last year’s Orange Bowl champions Florida State, a striking change from the previous year’s opener, Youngstown State. University of Pittsburgh Athletic Director Steve Pederson says although the team faces a tougher battle, playing against competitors like Florida State is in the best interest of the team.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:46 pm
Fri August 30, 2013

The Thrill Mill: Contributing to Pittsburgh's Business Ecosystem

The Thrival Festival is a highly anticipated music and innovation event coming to Bakery Square in East Liberty this September.
Credit Somenametoforget / Flickr

Startup incubators provide entrepreneurs with opportunities to grow their ideas in an affordable space, with resources, mentoring and sometimes funding. They’ve sprung up all over Pittsburgh, especially in East Liberty. 

The Thrill Mill and its incubator space, the Hustle Den, is one of the new kids on the block. And while many incubators are focused on technology, Thrill Mill is supporting some diverse innovators.

For Bobby Zappala founder of the Thrill Mill, it all started when he moved back to Pittsburgh from Washington D.C. in 2006. He says he and his friends wanted to connect with other young people who had interesting business ideas. He says they host regular gatherings which became very popular.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:01 pm
Fri August 30, 2013

Old School Media & Modern Muckraking on Film

Citizen Kane starts off the September Sunday series for Pittsburgh Filmmakers. The theme: Typewriter Ribbons & Newsreels
Credit RKO/Turner Entertainment / Wikipedia

Sunday, September 1st kicks off a month long media focused film series sponsored by Pittsburgh Filmmakers and PublicSource.  Pittsburgh City Paper’s Film Critic, Al Hoff says the series brings classic investigative journalism back into the spotlight with films that demonstrate, “news gathering, how media works and how media is a cultural force across decades.”

The series begins with Citizen Kane, a film that is often considered the greatest movie of all time, followed by His Girl Friday starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, Ace in the Hole with Kirk Douglas, Medium Cool directed by Haskell Wexler.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:48 pm
Thu August 29, 2013

Are We Ready to Take on Another War?

Rebels posing in front of a burnt military vehicle in Syria
Credit Freedom House / Flickr

Discussion about the need for military intervention in Syria continues in Washington as President Obama and Congress explore options for the United States.

The Syrian government is under scrutiny for using chemical weapons against its own people while trying to dispel rebels amidst their civil war.

Former U.S. Ambassador and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Dan Simpson thinks the American military should stay out of the Syrian conflict.

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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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