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.  
  • Tweet your question to @esspgh
  • Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.
  • What stories are we missing? Send your thoughts to esspgh@wesa.fm 

Essential Pittsburgh: A Conversation with Governor Wolf

Mar 16, 2015
Tom Wolf / Flickr

Now that Pennsylvania is transitioning to a full Medicaid expansion, what happens if the Supreme Court decides to unravel Obamacare? And will Gov. Tom Wolf’s death penalty moratorium survive a lawsuit filed by the Philadelphia DA? Hear the answers to those questions in his first Essential Pittsburgh interview since the election.

Regarding his plan for using the sales tax to help the Commonwealth's budget deficit, Wolf explains:

"We simply can't keep doing what we're doing -- that is, consume public goods but not pay for them, and we've been doing that for years and years. It's a bipartisan thing, but we need to finally address that, and be honest about the deficits, and I want to do that. - Gov. Wolf

Also in the program, Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak discusses ongoing efforts by UMPC workers to unionize, Evelyn Roche tells the story of Guinness beer, WESA contributor Margaret J. Krauss gives some history of LGBT culture in Pittsburgh, and business contributor Rebecca Harris talks women in the workplace.

Essential Pittsburgh: The High Cost of Protection From Abuse

Mar 16, 2015
Rae Allen / Flickr

When faced with an abusive partner, many women seek out a restraining order to get protection and regain some control over their lives. But according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh, getting out of an abusive relationship can be quite costly for women who try to obtain restraining orders. Sociologists Melanie Hughes and Lisa Brush address the financial disruption in women’s lives when they petition the courts to leave abusive relationships. 

Lisa discusses the focal points and the results of this study.

"What we really wanted to understand was if we compared women to themselves before and after they went through the process of petitioning ... did they have a boost in their earnings and an increase afterwards in the wake?”

She continues by presenting the other possibility for the results.

“Or was there an economic shock or a stall in their earnings? And in fact we found out that the period right around the time when they’re petitioning is full of all kinds of turmoil and um pretty much everybody experiences a shock and lots of women experience a stall in their earnings.”

Also, in this program we speak with Attorney Lisa A. Borelli Dorn about what it takes to file a protection from abuse order. And what prospects does the RMU men's basketball team have for making it to the Final Four? 

Ricky Romero / Flickr

Kyle Bibby, a University of Pittsburgh professor of civil and environmental engineering  has been studying the microorganisms in Pittsburgh's drinking water. He's received some help in this endeavor from students at the Pittsburgh Gifted Center and the Carnegie Science Center. Professor Bibby explains what we may, or may not want to know about the microbes in our tap water.

"We like to think of water as "sterile," but really nothing is sterile, in the sense that microorganisms exist everywhere. Understanding what's there is essential to understanding why it's safe. It's also just very scientifically interesting." - Professor Kyle Bibby

Also in this hour, the once in a lifetime date Super Pi Day arrives, host Guy Raz of the TED Radio Hour stops by, and the New Girl gives a guide to traveling the States with the luck of the Irish.

Essential Pittsburgh: Investigating Greek Life

Mar 12, 2015
Jeff Simms / Flickr

A video of members of the SAE fraternity at University of Oklahoma performing a racist chant has been garnering national headlines. It also places a spotlight on the negative aspects of Greek life at institutions of higher education in the United States. Atlantic Monthly magazine writer Caitlin Flanagan conducted a yearlong investigation of Greek problems titled The Dark Power of Fraternities. And Eric Kelderman writes about Greek life for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Talking about the enduring popularity of the rather old-fashioned tradition of fraternities, Flanagan says:

“You would think if there were something as un-modern, essentially un-modern, as a fraternity -- you know, clubs that are largely all white, clubs that are exclusionary in all sorts of ways and that have real problems in terms of violence against women -- you would think in modern America those would be the sort of things dying on the vine. You’d think there’d be no role for them at all anymore. And yet they are currently at kind of a zenith of popularity. So we’re really stuck here with a system that nobody knows what to do with but that hundreds of thousands of young men absolutely love.”

Asked about the challenges of university oversight of fraternities and sororities, Kelderman explains:

“Universities have struggled with this idea of holding Greek organizations accountable. They’re private organizations, they often live in privately owned housing, and that creates a number of complications …”

Also in the program, former August Wilson Center CEO Andre Kimo Stone Guess and Robert Morris University Director of Special Programs and Student Community Standards offer their perspectives on contemporary fraternity culture.


Brad Knabel / Flickr

Mt. Lebanon has been trying to reduce its deer population with a controversial program in which deer are baited, trapped into a small area, and then shot. Township officials have said they are trying to reduce the number of incidents involving deer and cars.Tom Fazi, Information and Education Supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Southwest Region, says the plan was developed by Mt. Lebanon's community leaders, and that the Commission is there to guide their decision-making.


"They met the provisions of the law in all respects. We are duty-bound to offer them the permit. That doesn't mean we'll wash our hands of it. We have the authority to revoke this permit immediately if the provisions aren't met." -Tom Fazi


But some members of the community say the deer cull is inhumane and barbaric. Leila Sleiman, a representative of Pittsburgh Animal Rights believes that the process is not being accurately presented to the community. 


"From its conception, this plan has not been transparent. It has nothing to do with public safety or how inhumane it is. It's been hurdle after hurdle for [local government], of doing things wrong with public safety not in mind." -Leila Sleiman


They were joined by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter John Hayes, who has been covering this issue.


Also in the program is a discussion of Hillary Clinton's email account usage, with former U.S. Ambassador Dan Simpson.

Autophotomoto / Flickr

There’s a continual emphasis on the importance of obtaining a college education. However, as the costs associated with higher education continue to increase, is a college degree diminishing in importance among college students and their parents?  Marty McGough Vice President for Market Insights, of Campos Research Strategy gives his take on that theory.

Students and would-be students are increasingly weighing the costs of college against the benefits, McGough says:

“I think that the pressures placed on [college students] -- the cost of college tuition, what’s expected of them, a job market that’s pretty bleak, and that they’re going to be saddled with the student loan debt -- makes their emphasis right off the bat in freshman year thinking, ‘When I graduate, what kind of job am I going to get? Will I be able to pay back my student loans?’ And they make a calculation in their mind whether university is really worth it from a financial perspective. And I think that maybe ten or twenty years ago that was less likely.”

Also in the program, Post-Gazette politics editor James O’Toole talks about the local political endorsement process, Rep. Dan Miller describes the Children and Youth Disability and Mental Health Summit, Margaret J. Krauss looks back on the history of Pittsburgh’s “h.”

Monica Cwyner

This past weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March. Jen Saffron, director of communications for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council took part in the events commemorating the civil rights event. She and Monica Cwyner, a social worker from Pittsburgh, recount their experiences at last weekend’s event and the issues it raises for them.

Monica emphasizes that there is only one race, the human race. 

"As long as we try to define it by color, or by sex and make the differences, why don't we start looking at the things we all want. We all want a safe place to live. We all want something to do...something that makes us get up, that we can feel good about." -Monica Cwyner

However, as a Caucasian American, Jen points out that it's important for her to be cognizant of white privilege. 

"It is crucial that people like myself, white privileged people-- I'm willing to say that-- are investigating what that privilege means, what that does to others, how much space we take up, and how we may be inflicting micro-agressions against people and we don't even know it because we're just prescribing to the dominant cultural values of our time." -Jen Saffron

Also in the program, after years of protests, Earth Quaker Action Team gets PNC Bank to divest funding for mountaintop removal mining. 

Joseph / Flickr

August Wilson is well known for his 20th century cycle of works about the black experience in America. But now an additional play written shortly before Wilson’s death is debuting in Pittsburgh. Actor Eugene Lee and Director Todd Kreidler, Wilson’s friend and protégé, explain what “How I Learned What I Learned” reveals about the playwright’s life as a poet in the Hill District.

"His quality of mind is actually something that comes out in the show, and that's something Eugene really brings out. The way he can twist and turn. I always say that August was a blues man with a jazz mind." - Director Todd Kreidler

Also in this show, a look at how the USDA is taking a new approach to fighting hunger, and CMU students prepare to launch a Xombie into space.

Kurt Sampsel / WESA

It may not have received the Oscar recognition it could have, but the movie "Selma" is inspiring discussions about the civil rights movement among school-age children and young adults. Actor Stan Houston played Jim Clark, the sheriff of Selma, Alabama in 1965. Houston talks about the impact of the film and what he thinks it will take to move America forward in the aftermath of current events. Asked about how his own background as a Southerner impacted his preparation for the film, Houston explains:

“Well, growing up in the South, everybody’s met ‘the guy.’ .. You know, not specifically, but we know the personality, the attitudes, that we grew up [with] in the South. … I portrayed my old high school coach. … I tried to turn it around -- if Jimmie Lee Jackson had the baton in his hand, and he was able to do to Clark what he was doing to Jimmie Lee in the scene. Reverse the roles, in other words -- carry out his frustrations of being discriminated against, denied the right to vote, just because of the color of his skin. So, I used that as a motivation.”

Also today, a former school teacher and activist remembers marching in Selma, Alabama in 1965. And representatives from the National Aviary discuss an online auction to name one of its African penguin chicks.

Essential Pittsburgh: What's Next for Net Neutrality?

Mar 4, 2015
Gflores / wikipedia

The notion of regulating the Internet using public utility laws has been under consideration for the past year. Now that net neutrality rules have been adopted by U.S. regulators, how will this long-running battle play out in Congress and the courts? As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA-14) explains how the proposed rules might benefit citizens and the Internet at large. 

Also today, Governor Wolf's budget proposal, and a delegation from PA travels to D.C. to convince senators and congressmen to renew the Export-Import Bank charter.

“It’s really not intented to protect the Googles and the Facebooks of the world. It’s really intended to protect the next big thing.” - Representative Doyle

AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File

Today 90.5 WESA presented live coverage of Governor Wolf's budget address to the Pennsylvania Legislature in Harrisburg from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Devon Christopher Adams / Flickr

Remembering Mr. Spock (41:00)

Actor Leonard Nimoy, best known as Mr. Spock on the classic television series Star Trek died last week at the age of 83. He made his Shakespearean acting debut at the Pittsburgh Public Theater in 1975. Pop culture contributor Joe Wos explains more about Nimoy's connection to the Steel City.   

Josh Staiger / Flickr

In a recent opinion piece for the Tribune Review, pop culture correspondent Joe Wos questions whether we’re seeing the death of the art museumRobin Nicholson, Director of The Frick, Jo Ellen Parker, President of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, and Joe Wos talk about the future of art museums.

“You know they just had museum selfie day, you know where people came in and used art as backdrops to selfies and I think that’s the risk you run. Yes you want to embrace the technology but you don’t want to devalue the experience completely,” says Wos.

Robin rebuts by saying, “I love museum selfie day. I think that it is an amazing opportunity for an individual to engage in an individual work of art that they might never look at in the same detail again.”

Jo Ellen offers a final insight, “I don’t think technology threatens the extinction of our museums. I think it will support their evolution.”  

Essential Pittsburgh: Some Fresh Ways to Shelter Homeless People

Feb 26, 2015

Jon Potter, the owner of what's said to be Pittsburgh's only hostel, is trying to fund his next big project. A co-operatively owned house called the Pittsburgh Home, it would offer a safe and free place for Pittsburghers in need of shelter. He explains where things stand with the project's development and how a co-operative shelter would work.


With regard to his plans for the Pittsburgh Home, Potter explains:

“The shelters are great, but there’s a dignity in having your own home, and that’s what we want to provide. It’s not only dignity, but it’s having an address that you can use to apply for jobs and get a bank account and get a driver’s license. Because actually having a home, I think, is what people need.”

Essential Pittsburgh: Crude Oil Transport Safety Concerns

Feb 25, 2015
Judy and Ed / Flickr

Despite safety improvements, there seems to be an increase in the number of fuel train accidents. So what safety improvements are needed? What has been learned from the recent accident in West Virginia

Reporter Jon Schmitz has been covering this issue for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He says that although there is universal agreement that the old car designs are unsafe, recent accidents have proven the new CPC 1232 designs are also insufficient. 

PhotosNormandie / Flickr

Seventy years ago this month, Pittsburgh native George Pietropola battled frostbite in the Ardennes Forest during World War II. Just after the war ended, then-Staff Sgt. Pietropola was presented with a Bronze Star for his heroism under fire from February 9th to February 24th. 

"It looked more like a slaughter to me. It was terrible. That was one of the worst things I’d ever seen – that ever happened, all the time I was in the war." - George Pietropola

Essential Pittsburgh: Staving Off the Winter Blues

Feb 23, 2015
Hman2 / Flickr

Today's topics: a review of the recent Pennsylvania Democratic Leadership meeting, a new surgical adhesive created by a Pittsburgh company and tips on dealing with the winter blues.

How to Beat the Winter Blues (30:55)

Have the bone chilling temperatures been bringing you down and keeping you indoors? Are you eating too much comfort food and binge watching Netflix to help you deal with the winter? Point Park University Humanities and Human Sciences professor, Brent Robbins offers tips to help combat the winter blues and some actual benefits:

“ Winter season is much more of a melancholy period of time where people sort of get self-reflective and turn more inward…they're not active and out in the streets so much. But along with that, comes I think an opportunity to self-reflect, to think about what we want to accomplish, what we have accomplished so far, changes and goals."

Essential Pittsburgh: The Steel City's Role in Cyber Defense

Feb 20, 2015
Faruk Ates / Flickr

Today's topics include cyber security, a cross country fundraiser for Haiti, and the Pittsburgh connection to the Oscars.

Cyber Security

How devastating could a cyber 9/11 be? Tribune Review reporter Andrew Conte shares the results of his recent investigation into the vulnerability of the nation’s infrastructure to cyber attacks. 

Andrew gives his thoughts on what the government and corporations can do to maintain security in the cyber world:

AP Photo/Chris Tilley

Topics on today's Essential Pittsburgh include the West Virginia train derailment, and ski resorts near and far  

Oil Train Safety   

An oil tanker derailment and fire in West Virginia is raising questions about the apparent failure of safer tank cars to prevent an explosion. 

Dave Mistich, Digital Editor/Coordinator for West Virginia Public Broadcasting offers an update on how residents have been effected by the derailment,

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Last Friday, Governor Tom Wolf announced a hold on all executions in Pennsylvania, due to ongoing questions about the effectiveness of capital punishment.

While the death penalty is on hold, State Senator Daylin Leach is taking steps to repeal the practice in PA altogether.

Rob McCord website

Former Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord pleaded guilty Tuesday to two federal counts of attempted extortion, admitting that he tried to use the position of his office to strong-arm state contractors into donating money to his failed gubernatorial campaign.

WESA's Capitol correspondent Mary Wilson joins us to discuss McCord's steep and fast fall from public office.

August Wilson Documentary Debuts

Feb 18, 2015
The Huntington / Flickr


We talked with the producers of a new documentary nearly ten years in the making; "August Wilson: The Ground On Which I Stand" which focuses on the Pittsburgh born playwright and his ten plays over twenty years covering a one-century cycle of American history.

Our guests are Executive Producer Darryl Ford Williams and Deesha Philyaw, manager of the August Wilson Education Project.

Chuck Cooper’s Legacy for African-Americans in Basketball

Feb 17, 2015
Bagumba / Wikipedia

Chuck Cooper was a Duquesne University basketball star who became the first African-American drafted by an NBA team when he was selected in the second round by the Boston Celtics on April 29, 1950. In 2011, the Chuck Cooper Foundation was established in tribute to his legacy.

The foundation presents its annual Leadership, Diversity and Community Service Award this week. Joining us to discuss the legacy of Chuck Cooper is his son Chuck Cooper III.

Cooper explains that, like many other young men who played basketball in Pittsburgh, his father developed his skills as an adolescent at Mellon Park in Point Breeze.

Once in college, he says, the elder Cooper had a great amount of respect for Duquesne University, in part because of an incident involving the University of Tennessee’s basketball team in the late 1940s. The Tennessee team traveled to Pittsburgh but refused to play the Dukes if Cooper would be included on the court. In the face of this prejudice, Duquesne didn’t back down, and the Dukes management sent the Tennessee team back home without a game. This gesture of respect and solidarity meant a lot to Cooper, his son explains.

What Do Unemployment Numbers Really Mean?

Feb 17, 2015
Michael Carian / Flickr

Earlier this month the unemployment numbers were announced. Over two-hundred thousand jobs were added to the economy. While this is good news why do so many people feel we’re still in the recession? Robert Morris University Economics Professor Brian O’Roark explains how unemployment is assessed and who counts as “unemployed.”

Unemployment assessments are done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. O’Roark says that the official ranks of the unemployed do not simply include people who don’t have jobs.

Fitness Means Business

Feb 17, 2015
Fittsburgh / Facebook

From Zumba to yoga to gym memberships, fitness is big business. This week business contributor Rebecca Harris offers her take on some of the latest trends in the business of fitness.

Harris says one of the new ways of working out is treadmill studio running that features intensity training. Another trend is the rise of fitness streaming technologies, which are a popular choice for people who want to work out at home but still have the feel of a “social” experience. Crossfit remains very popular too, Harris says.

Believe Creative / Flickr

The Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie is now home to a collection of 100 photos of President Abraham Lincoln. The exhibit opens today, and we’ll get a preview of this collection from Margaret J. Forbes, Executive Director Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall.

The Not So "Silent Cal," Discovering the Real Calvin Coolidge

Feb 16, 2015
Cliff / Flickr

What can you say about a man known for saying very little?

Our guest, New York Times bestselling author and journalist Amity Shlaes has quite a bit to say. She joins us for a look at the nation’s 30th president, Calvin Coolidge.

Shlaes argues that “Silent Cal” had more of a legacy than being a man of little words.

“People think that because Coolidge said little ---"Silent Cal"--- that he was worth little. And we at The Coolidge Foundation (and I do my research) have discovered that Coolidge is a wonderful president, a model for modern American.”

Shlaes goes on to comment on the idea that Calvin Coolidge was a “quaint” president.

“This way of making him quaint, depicting him as a throwback, something out of a Victorian story... is a way of reducing him. He played to type for fun in the media (he’s not unsophisticated and he was a type: a New Englander). [But] He also was extremely sophisticated in the way he operated to achieve his end, which was to reduce government and honor the office of the presidency.”

The Origins of "Hail to the Chief"

Feb 16, 2015

We’re all familiar with the tune "Hail to the Chief" as the President’s anthem. But what are the origins of the song? We’ll discover the history behind the president’s theme song with Deane Root, professor and curator for the Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh.

“It’s said to come from an old Scottish sailing song y a know there’s lots of islands around Scotland and as they would row to one island or another,they’d sing these songs and these tunes became part of the oral tradition. So in 1810 when Sir Walter Scott wrote his poem about one of those old legends, about an Arthurian legend, this song and many others were used in theatre productions.

Root also says that this song was not always used in a patriotic context.

“ It was used by tutors to learn how to play the violin and the fiddle and the flute and all these other instruments in the 19th century. It was sung by usually men in taverns ya know groups of people who just liked the tune and put whatever words they wanted to.”

Brandy or Beer? A History of Drinking in the White House

Feb 16, 2015
Kirti Poddar / Flickr


The 2009 “beer summit” was probably the most famous pouring of alcohol at the White House in recent years. But, what were the drinking habits of our past commanders in chief?

We pose that question to journalist Mark Will-Weber author of the book, "Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking.”

Mark starts off by telling us what Washington liked to drink:

“George Washington liked a lot of different things, among his favorite were madeira wine, he loved champagne, and he also really liked this special porter beer, dark beer, that was brewed with molasses.”

Jefferson has a more refined taste for alcoholic drinks:

“ It is not out of line to call him the first father of American wine. Jefferson actually had the opportunity to visit a lot of the best vineyards in France and northern Italy and kept meticulous notes about it.”

Franklin Pierce qualifies as an alcoholic by Weber since Pierce died of cirrhosis of the liver. Abraham Lincoln was very involved with whiskey as a young man, with both producing and selling.

Monday Rundown: Silent Cal and Other Presidential Tales

Feb 15, 2015
Cliff / Flickr

These topics air Monday February 16, 2015 at noon and 8pm on 90.5 WESA. 

Lincoln Gallery

The Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie is now home to a collection of 100 photos of President Abraham Lincoln. Opening today we’ll get a preview of this collection from Margaret J. Forbes, Executive Director of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall.

Silent Cal

What can you say about a man known for saying very little? Our guest New York Times bestselling author and journalist Amity Shlaes has quite a bit to say. She joins us for a look at the nation’s 30th president, Calvin Coolidge and we’ll even hear from Silent Cal himself.

Hail to the Chief

We’re all familiar with the tune "Hail to the Chief," as the President’s anthem. But what are the origins of the song? We’ll discover the history behind the president’s theme song with Deane Root, professor and curator for the Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh.

Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt

The 2009 “beer summit” was probably the most famous pouring of alcohol at the White House in recent years. But, what were the drinking habits of our past commanders in chief? We’ll pose that question to journalist Mark Will-Weber author of the book, "Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking.”