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
4:31 pm
Fri August 23, 2013

Pittsburgh Civil Rights Leader Remembers the 1963 March on Washington

Credit Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

Long-time civil right activist and former Pittsburgh City Councilman Sala Udin recently spoke with WESA Senior News Editor, Mark Nootbaar about his memories of the 1963 March on Washington.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:28 pm
Fri August 23, 2013

Workers Demonstrate for Fair Wage & Commemorate March on Washington

People carried signs for many civil rights causes in 1963, jobs and workers' rights were chief among them.
Credit American Jewish Congress records / wikipedia

The group One Pittsburgh is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington by staging a protest at the Strip District McDonald’s drive thru, Saturday. Protest organizer, Calvin Skinner says people often forget that the 1963 March on Washington was titled, “the march for jobs and freedom.”

“The March on Washington was always about Civil Rights,” says Skinner “But also about economic rights and economic justice and that’s a story that is not told. It’s a place where we’ve lost significant ground in this country.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:46 pm
Fri August 23, 2013

Recreational Opportunities Abound in Pittsburgh

One of the creative games developed by City of Play.
Credit Lindsay Dill / City of Play


San Francisco-based researchers, NerdWallet recently released a study that puts Pittsburgh in the top ten of best cities for recreational activity in the nation.

According to NerdWallet senior analyst Divya Raghavan, Pittsburgh’s high standing is due to a number of recreational opportunities.

Raghavan specifically notes Pittsburgh’s Parks and Recreation Department, which she says “values providing options for its residents.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:29 pm
Fri August 23, 2013

A Wide Variety of Authentic Mexican Restaurants for Pittsburghers

Nic DiCio at Casa Reyna in the Strip District, built a mini tortilla factory in the back of his Mexican restaurant, because he says authentic tortillas should be made fresh each day.
Credit Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA


Even though the Steel City is hundreds of miles away from the southern border, Pittsburgh has recently seen a rise in restaurants offering authentic Mexican cuisine. The new establishments are finding Pittsburghers to be eager customers.

One such customer is food critic Melissa McCart. A fan of Mexican food, McCart says these authentic restaurants have brought an increased variety of regional flavors.  McCart points to how Pittsburgh has begun to approach a Tex-Mex favorite: the taco.

“Six years ago you might not have seen a tongue taco or a chorizo taco, but now you can find them at four or five different places,” says McCart.

Although the number of restaurants has been rising, McCart says the important trend is the variety of styles and approaches within the cuisine.

Essential Pittsburgh
4:07 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

Elaine Labalme's Midwest Adventure Continues

The Gateway Arch is just one of the many treasures of the Midwest.
Credit Steven Martin / Flickr

As great as the ballparks of the midwest may be, Essential Pittsburgh travel contributor Elaine Labalme found that there was much more to the cities that housed them than just baseball.

From the amazing Nelson-Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City to Milwaukee’s historic third ward, to the “photographer’s dream” that is the Gateway arch in St. Louis, Labalme quickly learned that the cultural happenings of the midwest were manifold.

As an added bonus, much of this art and culture is paired up with some of the tastiest eateries these cities have to offer. As Labalme puts it, “I would say food meets art is all over the midwest.”

Essential Pittsburgh
4:02 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

Giving Voters a Say on Natural Gas Drilling

Who should decide whether Allegheny County drills in its parks?
Credit Flickr

When it comes to drilling for natural gas in the county’s parks, Allegheny County councilman Matt Drozd thinks the decision should be up to the voters. That’s why he recently introduced a resolution that will require the board of elections to ask voters if they should be consulted before the county approves drilling beneath a county park.

“Let them make a decision too and join in. They’ll learn more and they’ll feel more a part of the process,” Drozd said of his proposal.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:37 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

Pat Toomey Talks Taxes, Immigration

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey discussed his desire to reform the corporate tax code and his dissatisfaction with immigration reform.
Credit Wikipedia

Even though congress is currently in recess, that doesn’t mean U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey isn’t busy grappling with the numerous issues the legislature faces upon its return.

Toomey has focused on a number of efforts including tax code reform and retooling the nation’s immigration policy.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:32 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

An Update on the Blooming Corpse Flower

Spectators flocked to the Phipps Conservatory this week.
Credit Casey Premoshis / The Allegheny Front

The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has been swarming with visitors over the last few days. And thankfully, not flies.

The rare and odoriferous corpse flower has been in bloom for the last 48 hours.  Casey Premoshis visited the giant plant named "Romero" for the Allegheny Front and WESA:

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:52 pm
Wed August 21, 2013

The Moth Mainstage: How to Tell a Compelling Story

The Moth is described as, true stories, told live, without notes.
Credit The Moth

The Moth Mainstage returns to Pittsburgh tomorrow at the Byham Theater. Participants share a ten-minute story onstage centered on the theme “balancing acts.”

Producer Kate Tellers says The Moth StorySlams, Radio Hour and Mainstage have experienced huge success in Pittsburgh over the past few years.

She coaches storytellers before they perform and worked with Justin Strong, owner of Shadow Lounge and AVA, in crafting a story. Tellers says truly effective stories are able to reach to the lowest point in someone’s life and illustrate a turning point that defines them.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:39 pm
Wed August 21, 2013

Ending LGBT Discrimination in Pennsylvania

Credit Michael Lokner / Flickr


Although protections exist in Pittsburgh and in Allegheny County, there is currently no comprehensive protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression throughout Pennsylvania. Democratic State Representative Dan Frankel aims to provide that protection to LGBT individuals at the state level. Frankel has authored a bipartisan bill with a record number of cosponsors to amend Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act.

According to Frankel, there needs to be a uniform statute to provide protections across the commonwealth.

“It’s the last vestige of legalized discrimination that Pennsylvania still embraces,” says Frankel.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:33 pm
Tue August 20, 2013

Phase 4 Learning Centers Serve As Last Chance High Schools

Phase 4 Learning Centers have helped troubled students get a chance to excel in a different environment.
Credit Phase 4 Learning Center

Phase 4 Learning Centers are often referred to as last chance high schools by many, but to Phase 4’s founder, Terrie Suica Reed, it’s also their best chance for many troubled students to find success in their high school careers.

Though many students who come into her program come from broken homes or are even homeless, Reed stands firm in her belief that “with the right support, the right network, they can do anything they want to do.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:23 pm
Tue August 20, 2013

The Business of Couponing

Guess which American company was the first one to adopt the coupon?
Credit The Coca Cola Company

Always one for quirky trivia, Essential Pittsburgh business contributor Rebecca Harris fills us in on the origins of the now ubiquitous coupon. Perhaps more intriguing, however, is the coupon’s future. Though 80-90% of the coupon market still lies in print, the online coupon market is exploding. This is especially true when it comes to smartphones, with the mobile market projected to be $46 billion by 2016. Harris says, the advent of personalized coupons means mass coupon printing is no longer necessary. “You don’t have to be a huge retailer,” she says, to enjoy the benefits of the mobile coupon craze.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:29 pm
Mon August 19, 2013

Hypertension High Among Allegheny County African Americans, But It's Treatable

A blood pressure monitoring machine commonly found in drugstores, where you can monitor your pressure for free.
Credit Meddy Garnet / Flickr

Hypertension, known as the “Silent Killer,” is more prevalent in Allegheny County African Americans than any other group. Also known as high blood pressure, hypertension has taken the lives of over 50,000 people in the last year.

Dr. Indu Poornima is a cardiologist at Allegheny General Hospital and conducts research with high blood pressure patients in Allegheny County. She says the increased prevalence of obesity and stressors, along with access to health care and genetic predispositions, are all possible factors that cause hypertension.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:24 pm
Mon August 19, 2013

Driving a Banger from the Big Apple to the Big Easy

Shauna Yorty and Eli Mailey with their Uber Banger car
Credit Slyorty

From the Big Apple to the Big Easy, known by the acronym BABE, decorated “bangers” or junk cars, drive  from New York to New Orleans. The concept originated from similar rallies driven by junkie cars in Europe.

Shauna Yorty and Eli Mailey's banger is a 1982 VW Quantum that runs on vegetable oil. The Harrisburg couple can recall goofy stories and quirks about the rally over the past four years. Mailey converted his diesel car to run on vegetable oil with the help of a home conversion kit.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:10 pm
Mon August 19, 2013

Bob Dvorchak on Steroids in Baseball

Bob Dvorchak
Credit Bob Dvorchak / Sports n'at

Professional sports have an extensive history with performance enhancing drugs. From a mandatory training supplement to a pill that can lead to professional suspension, steroids have always been prevalent. But each sport has dealt with users differently. Bob Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sports Writer Emeritus, says while major sports are implementing tough drug tests and punishments for users, steroids won’t be out of the athletic scene any time soon.

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:33 pm
Fri August 16, 2013

Rising Marcellus Shale Production Might Not Benefit Natural Gas

We're producing more natural gas in PA than anticipated, what are the economic pros & cons?
Credit Daniel Foster / flickr


Despite a declining number of wells, Marcellus Shale gas production in 2013 is up 50% from 2012. According to Nick Nanos, President and CEO of Nanos Research, this can be attributed at least in part to a shift of focus.

“The focus has been on higher quality drills and wells that can yield a greater value,” Nanos explains.

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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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