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 

Does Offering Free Contraceptives Violate Religious Freedom?

Mar 24, 2016
Jacquelyn Martin / AP Images

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week putting faith-based groups’ rights to adhere to religious doctrine up against a woman’s right to access free birth control. We’ll discuss Zubik vs. Burwell with University of Akron law professor Wilson Huhn.

With Budget Impasse Ending, What's Next?

Mar 24, 2016
Matt Rourke / AP Images

After battling the legislature for nearly nine months, what finally convinced Governor Wolf to allow the the supplemental budget to close out Fiscal Year 2015-16? And while the state budget crisis is over for now, what will happen between now and the next budget deadline on July 1? We'll talk with John Micek, editorial and opinion pages editor for the Harrisburg Patriot-News and PennLive.

Remembering Joe Garagiola

Mar 24, 2016

Joe Garagiola the former major league baseball catcher and Hall of Fame broadcaster spent part of his playing days as a Pittsburgh Pirate. We’ll remember the legendary broadcaster with author and baseball writer Richard “Pete” Peterson

After Nine Months, Budget Battles Come To An End

Mar 24, 2016
Chris Knight / AP Images

Nearly nine months into the fiscal year, Pennsylvania's budget impasse will end this week. Governor Wolf has said he will allow a roughly six billion dollar supplemental funding plan to become law, but without his signature. "I cannot in good conscience attach my name to a budget that simply doesn't add up," said the Governor who insists the budget is unbalanced, exacerbating a nearly two billion dollar structural deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1. We'll talk with Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai about the governor's decision and the end of the 2015-2016 budget impasse.

Billie Grace Ward / flickr

Following the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium on Tuesday morning, the Pittsburgh International Airport has increased security and reminded passengers of the familiar mantra, “if you see something, say something.”  Bob Kerlik, Vice President of Media Relations for Pittsburgh International Airport says they are in constant communication with both the Pittsburgh Police and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers.   

Brussels Attack Analysis From Local Counterterrorism Expert

Mar 23, 2016
Ralph Usbeck / AP Images

In the wake of ISIS attacks in Belgium that left many dead and injured, we'll talk with nationally recognized counterterrorism expert Colin Clarke, Associate Political Scientist at the Pittsburgh office of the RAND Corporation. We'll look at what's driving ISIS terrorism, why Brussels was attacked, if Belgium's security forces failed, and whether more attacks are likely.

Angela S / flickr

Throughout the country, municipalities are being impacted by the abuse of heroin and opioid use. What’s being done in the commonwealth to address the problem? We’ll pose that question to Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary of Health Lauren Hughes and discover how the health department plans to work with healthcare professionals throughout the state to confront opioid abuse. 

Looking At The Future Of Our Relationship With Cuba

Mar 22, 2016
Rebecca Blackwell / AP Images

Calvin Coolidge was the last U. S. President to visit Cuba over 90 years ago. Sunday, Air Force One touched down in Havana beginning President Obama’s historic trip to the Caribbean nation. Joining us to discuss how this trip could affect the future of U.S. and Cuban relations are Kenya Dworkin y Mendez, Carnegie Mellon University Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies & Scott Morgenstern, associate professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh.

Following The Candidates' Money On The Campaign Trail

Mar 21, 2016
Carolyn Kaster / AP Images

From television ads to flyers presidential candidates spare no expense in hopes of earning your vote. Mazetoons cartoonist and pop-culture contributor Joe Wos joins us with a look at the surprising expenditures being tallied by the presidential candidates.  

Following The Voting Trends Of Millennial Females

Mar 21, 2016
ITU Pictures / flickr

One of the newest trends of 2016 is the rise of the premium single as a consumer. Described as women who are earning money, and delaying marriage and children, we’ll discover the impact they’re having on the economy and could have on the election. Joining us to look at this trend is Alice Greene, vice-president secondary research at Campos Research Strategy.

Analyzing Rhetoric By Grade Level Of Candidate Speeches

Mar 21, 2016
Matt Rourke / AP Images

How complex is the rhetoric in presidential candidate’s speeches? According to a recent linguistics study, a typical address utilizes language on a 6-8th grade level.  Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University Language Technologies Institute (LTI) conducted the analysis.  LTI principal systems scientist, Maxine Eskenazi, and graduate student in language technologies, Elliot Schumacher, joined Essential Pittsburgh to elaborate on their findings.

J. Chan / flickr

Pennsylvania’s incarceration rates are the highest of any northeastern state.  Beginning in the 1980's with the advent of the “War on Drugs,” Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union director Reggie Shuford said the commonwealth has a history of mass jailing. He told Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer about an upcoming ACLU roundtable discussion at the August Wilson Center addressing the incarceration debate.

Exploring Race Through Poetry And Artistic Expression

Mar 18, 2016
Emily Stock / 90.5 WESA

While issues surrounding race and identity often are examined politically and socially through rhetoric and discussion, many argue the arts can provide fresh insights into seeing this complex issue more clearly.

As part of the University of Pittsburgh’s ‘Year of Humanities,’ six acclaimed African American poets of diverse backgrounds will participate in a poetry reading and panel discussion on how to explore issues of race through creative writing.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Bring out the birthday cake, Pittsburgh is turning 200!

While 2008 marked the 250th anniversary of the founding of Fort Pitt, 2016 marks the bicentennial of the city’s incorporation. One of the people leading the celebration will be Heinz History Center President and CEO Andy Masich. An expert on the city’s history, Masich sat down with Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer to discuss the upcoming events.

Remembering The Great St. Patrick's Day Flood Of 1936

Mar 17, 2016
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

At the beginning of the 20th century, flooding was not uncommon for Pittsburgh. Businesses and residents were used to dealing with spring flooding and no official action had been taken to combat rising water levels from the city’s three rivers. On St. Patrick’s Day, 1936, however, usually warm temperatures resulted in a rapid thaw of the winter ice and the city was engulfed in 46 feet of water. We’ll talk with Heinz History Center museum project manager Lauren Uhl joins Essential Pittsburgh to discuss the flood and how it impacted the Steel City.  We’ll also hear from St. Stanislaus parish historian Derris Jeffcoat about how nuns living there survived the flood and Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor owner Jacob Hanchar about how the Klavon family escaped the rising waters.

Corey O'Connor On His Family's Irish Origins And Traditions

Mar 17, 2016
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Among the many Irish families in Pittsburgh, the O’Connors are one of the most well-known. The late Bob O’Connor served as city councilman and mayor and his son, Corey, is currently a member of Council, representing District 5. Corey says celebrating their Irish heritage is an essential part of being an O’Connor.  He recounted his family’s story and modern commemoration of their culture for Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer.

Joe Flaherty / IMDB

Pittsburgh born actor/comedian Joe Flaherty joins us to talk about his amazing career. It took him to the famed Second City Theater in Chicago and then to Toronto where he not only established another Second City troupe but also became one of the original writer/performers on SCTV, playing memorable characters like Guy Caballero, Sammy Maudlin, and of course the iconic TV horror show host Count Floyd. Mr. Flaherty will discuss SCTV, his movies and anything else that comes to the high functioning mind of this ad libbing performer.

RMU Sophomore First To Receive National Leadership Distinction

Mar 16, 2016
Robert Morris University

The Institute for Responsible Citizenship is an intensive leadership development program for African American enrolled in colleges and universities across America. Robert Morris sophomore Nolen Keeys is the first student from the university to receive this honor. Nolen Keeys joins us to discuss the honor and his educational future.

'21 Voices' Tells Stories Of Families Impacted By Alzheimer's

Mar 16, 2016
21 Voices / Facebook

The documentary short film, "21 Voices: Touched by Alzheimer's," currently in pre-production, is committed to shining a light on the devastating emotional and financial effects of this growing epidemic, The film will feature interviews with 21 people impacted by the illness including the family of our guest Joe Massaro III whose father Joseph Massaro Jr. died from Alzheimer's on December 30, 2015.   

Michael Chen / flickr

LM11A-31 is being called the Alzheimer’s Pill and has the potential to be a game-changer in finding a cure for the disease. Joining us to address its possible impact, as well as local research into finding a cure for Alzheimer’s is Susan Catalano, chief science officer of Cognition Therapeutics.

Why One Doctor Changed His Mind On Medical Marijuana

Mar 15, 2016
Neeta Lind / flickr

Members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives will vote this week on a proposal to make medical cannabis legal in the Commonwealth. The bill, which has already passed in the Senate, would allow for people suffering from certain conditions, such as epilepsy or glaucoma, to receive marijuana as a treatment. Dr. David Casarett is a professor of medicine with the University of Pennsylvania Health System. He's written a book called Stoned: A Doctor's Case for Medical Marijuana, in which he chronicles how he changed his mind on the issue.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

An investigation conducted by the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reports western Pennsylvania has been following a national trend regarding civil rights. Nationwide, over the last 20 years the U.S. Department of Justice has declined to bring charges in 96 percent of civil rights complaints against law enforcement. Joining us to address this issue are, Tribune Review reporters Andrew Conte and Brian Bowling. We’ll also speak with U.S. Attorney David Hickton.

Banjo Brown / flickr

Local leaders are responding to last week's deadly shooting in Wilkinsburg, saying communities must adopt thorough, extensive plans to stop violence. Community Empowerment Association president and CEO T. Rashad Byrdsong helped host a meeting in Wilkinsburg last weekend to address some of these issues. 

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

Currently on display at the Heinz History Center is the exhibit Toys of the ‘50’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s. From Barbie to PacMan, we ventured through the decades to learn how some iconic toys reflected American society with Heinz History Center Curators Emily Ruby and Anne Madarasz.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

This year’s presidential election has provided comics with more than enough material for monologues and satirical pieces. From Pogo, to Snoopy, to Pat Paulsen, Maze Toons cartoonist and pop culture contributor Joe Wos says these comical candidates from the past continue to influence today’s perception of politics.

Carlos Osorio / AP Images

When investigative journalist Curt Guyette was hired by the Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), he never expected to be breaking one of the biggest stories of 2015. Guyette, who is speaking at Point Park University tomorrow, told Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer that the Flint water crisis story was a collaborative mission by many local organizations to find and reveal truth.

Ballet's Next Generation

Mar 11, 2016
Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA


While choreographing ballets is a logical next step for dancers, where will the next generation of ballet dancers come from? Especially with ballet programs needing more boys?

Essential Pittsburgh attended a class at the Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh in Mount Lebanon to meet David O’Matz a young dancer.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s spring repertory comes to the Byham Theater stage this weekend. Essential Pittsburgh sat down with Terence S. Orr, artistic director for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, choreographer James Kudelka and principal dancer Yoshiani Nakano to preview the weekend’s performance.

Next Steps In The Wilkinsburg Shooting Investigation

Mar 11, 2016
B. Hughes / flickr

Police are still searching for the two gunmen responsible for the deadly mass shooting in Wilkinsburg that killed six people, including a child that was due in May. What's the next step in this case and who will be involved? We ask 90.5 WESA reporter Noah Brode, who has been following the story.

Documentary Dives Into Complexities Of 'Furry' Culture

Mar 11, 2016
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh is no stranger to furry culture. Every summer, thousands of members of the community gather in the Steel City for Anthrocon. But for filmmaker Dominic Rodriguez, he wanted to create a documentary taking a closer look at the Furry population. His film, "Fursonas," has been making rounds at independent film festivals and had its Pittsburgh debut last night at the Regent Square Theater. Essential Pittsburgh's Paul Guggenheimer spoke with Rodriguez about his movie and furry culture at large.