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 

Constistency Is Key To Successful Big/Little Relationships

Sep 17, 2015
Big Brothers Big Sisters

When Kara Olsen’s father died while she was growing up in Cincinnati,  a void was left in her family. Luckily, one organization was there to help fill that void; Big Brothers Big Sisters. Now a part of the Pittsburgh branch, Olsen spoke with Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer to tell her story of how having a big sister changed her life.

50 Years Of Big Brothers Big Sisters In Pittsburgh

Sep 17, 2015
Big Brothers Big Sisters / Facebook

As a troubled youth growing up in Philadelphia, Kenny Ross had a choice to make: go to juvenile court, or join Big Brothers Big Sisters. He chose the latter, and said being a part of the mentorship organization ended up saving his life.  After moving to Pittsburgh, he realized a need for Big Brothers Big Sisters in the region and opened the Greater Pittsburgh chapter in 1965.

Now, celebrating their 50th anniversary, the Pittsburgh organization serves almost 1500 children in Allegheny, Washington, and Greene County with a mission of providing one-on-one mentoring to children, focusing on improving their lives, staying in school, and becoming a productive part of society.

Thrival Festival

Low population density may account for Pittsburgh’s poor startup activity ranking by the Kauffman Foundation.  Thrill Mill CEO and Essential Pittsburgh tech startup contributor Bobby Zappala heard a speech from Kauffman representatives in which they clarified the statistics the organization uses when choosing the placements. He says startup density, which is the number of startup firms per every 100,000 residents, is pushing Pittsburgh lower since it’s already smaller than other cities. But Zappala says he believes the size issue is only temporary.

Robert Morris University / Facebook

It's hard to imagine Robert Morris University finding a better individual to fill the school's vacant presidency than Christopher Howard. The Air Force Academy and Harvard Business School graduate and Rhodes Scholar is a decorated veteran of the war in Afghanistan. In 2011, President Obama named him to the National Security Education Program Board. Howard spoke to Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer from Waco, Texas and shared his plans for the future of the university.

The Old Farmer's Almanac Turns 224

Sep 16, 2015
Sean Ray / 90.5 WESA

The Old Farmer's Almanac was first published in 1792 and has been serving up weather predictions ever since, The Almanac also offers weird facts and humorous anecdotes. But in this increasingly digital and online age, what has the Almanac done to stay relevant? Tim Clark, an editor at the Old Farmer's Almanac, shares his thoughts on this year's publication.

Analyzing The "Ferguson Effect"

Sep 15, 2015
Neil Cooler / flickr

As Police Chief Cameron McLay completes his first full year in office, it is important to note exactly what he has done to improve relations between the police force and citizens, especially minorities. The so-called “Ferguson Effect” is becoming a large-scale societal movement according to David Harris, Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh. He explains McLay has done well in his first year in order to improve these relations.

Keith Srakocic / AP Images

“A whirlwind” is how Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay describes his first year in the position. McLay marked the one-year anniversary of being appointed to the post Sept. 15, 2015. 

McLay told Essential Pittsburgh he was hired with some specific objectives; Implement data-driven community-oriented policing, start to repair police-community relations, and improve moral while restoring faith in the bureau’s internal leadership systems.

McLay said he was greeted with a positive attitude when he went to a Fraternal Order of Police picnic in the city between the time he was named and his first day on the job.

The Zombies To Perform Hit Songs Live For The First Time

Sep 14, 2015

It has been half a century since British Invasion rock group The Zombies released their second album Odessey and Oracle, which Rolling Stone named one of the top 100 albums of all time.  The band split before the album was officially released and never toured again.  35 years later, original members Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone reunited to play the material that never had a chance to be heard live, and the music is coming to Pittsburgh this fall.

Alberto G / flickr

Throughout Pennsylvania parents of elementary and middle school students are opening their mailboxes today to find standardized test scores for their children and their schools that are much lower than they were last year.  The drop has been nearly unanimously attributed to a more difficult set of tests that are more closely linked to Pennsylvania’s Common Core standards than they have been in the past.

“I would caution any parent from over interpreting these scores…this is a new baseline,” Heidi Ondek, Superintendent, Quaker Valley School District said.  “It may take years before this is a reliable enough measure to base too much on instructionally.”

Birmingham Arts Partnership Visits Pittsburgh

Sep 11, 2015

Representatives from the Birmingham Arts Partnership from Birmingham, England are visiting Pittsburgh this week to take a look at how the steel city positions the arts to benefit the community.

Anna Williams, finance director for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, told Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer why the group chose Pittsburgh as one stop on their trip across America.

“I think Pittsburgh has many similarities to Birmingham,” Williams said. The two cities, despite being an ocean away, are comparable in size, both have an industrial past and both now have most of their economy in universities and the medical industry.

City of Asylum Pittsburgh will present its 11th annual Jazz Poetry Concert at 7:45 p.m. Saturday near the National Aviary in West Park.

The event will be free to the public, and critically acclaimed Pakistani poet and human rights activist Harris Khalique will read poetry to jazz music.

Khalique will read in the Urdu language, a language spoken in Pakistan, and English translations will be available.

Other artists will be reading their poetry during the concert as well.

Flight 93 Memorial Grows on 14th Anniversary

Sep 11, 2015
Katie Blackley / 90.5 FM WESA

The mother of Flight 93 victim Deora Bodley walked through the new visitor center this week before the public was invited in and described it as a “very moving rendition of the story of what happened September 11th.”   

Debby Borza’s daughter Deora was a college student on September 11, 2001.  She was traveling back home to San Francisco from New Jersey where she had been visiting friends, when the plane was hijacked as part of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. 

Brady Is In But Goodell Is Out For The NFL Opener

Sep 10, 2015


Visions of deflated footballs are sure to be dancing in everyone’s head when the Steelers travel to Foxboro for the season opener against the Superbowl Champion New England Patriots Thursday night. 

Following last week’s reinstatement of Tom Brady by a U.S. District Judge who over ruled the NFL’s suspension, the outcome of Thursday’s could be different than originally expected.

Preparing For Wizard World Con With Lou Ferrigno

Sep 10, 2015
Carlos Osorio / AP Images

Don’t make him angry. You wouldn’t like him when he is angry.

Lou Ferrigno, famous for playing the Incredible Hulk from the 1978 series of the same name, will be appearing in Pittsburgh this weekend for the upcoming Wizard World Comic Con. But before going there, he came to Pittsburgh Essential to talk about some of the history behind his most famous role, as well as his lesser known ones.

Simon & Schuster

We take for granted that we can jump on a plane and get to every corner of the globe in a mater of hours, but there was once a time when there was no such thing as a flying machine.

Pittsburgh native and Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough has recently published the book The Wright Brothers looking at the lives of the two men most responsible for the invention of flight.

We all know the Wright brothers were bicycle mechanics from Dayton who invented the airplane said McCullough in an interview with Essential Pittsburgh leading up to his sold-out lecture in Pittsburgh.

HEARTH Celebrates 20 Years Helping Homeless Families

Sep 9, 2015
HEARTH Facebook

When a group of North Hills volunteers noticed a number of single homeless mothers and children struggling to find housing for their families, they took it upon themselves to step in. HEARTH Communications and Community Outreach Manager Victoria Gill says the organization is devoted to offering a “hand up, not a hand out” to area families.

Senator Casey On Supporting The Iran Nuclear Deal

Sep 9, 2015
Matt Rourke / AP Images

The U.S. Senate is beginning debate on the Iran Nuclear Agreement with a vote to be held no later than Sept. 17. Democrats including Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey have now given President Obama the votes he needs to prevent the Senate from passing a measure disapproving of the Iran nuclear deal.

Lindsay Fox / flickr

Young people who vape are more likely to progress to smoking cigarettes even if they don’t initially intend to, according to a study published Tuesday in JAMA Pediatrics, a edition of the Journal of American Medical Association.

Emily Stock / 90.5 WESA

From English breakfast to pub crawls, Pittsburgh will feel a little more British for seven days.

Roger Cranville, the President of British American Connections Pittsburgh, and Robert Charlesworth, a chairperson at BACP came and spoke to WESA’s Paul Guggenheimer on Essential Pittsburgh about “Britsburgh: A Festival of Britain in Pittsburgh”. The event is taking place during the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II as the longest reigning British monarch in history.

From September 8th-14th locals can learn more about the food, drink, music, and interconnected history of Great Britain and Pittsburgh.

Negotiations Continue Beyond Union Contract Expiration

Sep 8, 2015
Jeffrey Zeldman / flickr

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden fired up the crowd gathered in Pittsburgh Monday to mark Labor Day by calling on union members to “keep fighting” in what he called a national “war on labor.”  His comments came at a time when 2,200 United Steel Workers Union members at Allegheny Technologies Inc. plants have been locked out and another 30,000 USW workers at ArcelorMittal are working without a contract.

Philip Dine, labor expert and author of State of the Unions agrees with Biden and adds that he thinks the war is leading to the decline of the middle class. 

Searching For An Alzheimer's Cure

Sep 3, 2015
Pittsburgh Life Sciences

A Pittsburgh-based company is about to move its Alzheimer’s disease drug out of animal tests and into humans. “It’s exciting and humbling,” said Hank Safferstein Cognition Therapeutics CEO of the upcoming clinical trials.

The South Side company is chasing after a drug that will be effective in combating Alzheimer’s disease.

The process used in finding such a drug is a rare one that focuses on “creating the disease in a dish,” Safferstein said while appearing on WESA’s Essential Pittsburgh.

Emily Stock / 90.5 WESA

For individuals with Parkinson’s disease, postural instability is a daily challenge.  Courtney Williamson knows this reality well.  Her mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when she was a toddler so she’s experienced firsthand the struggles facing those with alignment issues. 

“Living with someone with Parkinson’s or a movement disorder, you get to learn how to be creative in way to help them with daily activities,” explains Williamson.  Unable to find solutions or products that could remedy her mother’s balance issues, Williamson embraced her resources as a Carnegie Mellon University PhD candidate and started her own company, AbiliLife

Can Pittsburgh Compete In The Biotech Industry?

Sep 3, 2015
Sergei Golyshev / flickr

Once upon a time, Pittsburgh rose and fell as one of the largest manufacturing cities in the nation with the growth and collapse of the steel industry.  Decades later, an influx of healthcare and higher education jobs has helped Pittsburgh make the transition from a manufacturing city to an up and coming technological powerhouse. 

Christian Manders, CEO of Promethean LifeScience, Inc., says this surge in interest in the life science sectors is driving the modern Pittsburgh economy. 

“If you look at statistics with employment in the region, it’s already there.  It’s already happening with ‘eds and meds’, education and medicine.”

Greg Nichols / Thomas Dunne Books

July 1959 500,000 steel workers in southwestern Pennsylvania walked off the job in a contract dispute.  They expected a quick end to the strike like they had seen in previous work stoppages but as the summer turned to fall and the men were still idle and the one bright spot was a local high school football team on the verge of setting a national record.

Independent Bookstores On The Comeback

Sep 2, 2015
Penguin Bookshop / Facebook

Booksellers B.Dalton, Waldenbooks and Borders once dotted the suburban shopping landscape. They also played a part in the decline of the independent bookstore. While those chains are long shuttered don’t write an obituary for independent book shops yet.

John Keane / flickr

A bipartisan group of Pennsylvania lawmakers are looking to push the state’s primary elections a month earlier to ensure that voters have what they believe would be more of a say in the next presidential nominee. Since the 1950s during presidential election years, Pennsylvania’s primary elections have been held mid-April, meaning by the time ballots are tallied, both the Democratic and Republic parties have typically already chosen their nominee. House Bill 1318 proposes pushing the primary to mid-March, along with the primaries of Florida, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri.

Overbrook's Character Drawn From Eclectic History

Sep 1, 2015
Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society / Facebook

A city is nothing without its quaint and quirky neighborhoods.  Pittsburgh is lucky enough to have several of these neighborhoods, which preserve the culture and history of Pittsburghers.  Business contributor Rebecca Harris highlights the neighborhood of Overbrook, a small borough just south of downtown Pittsburgh.  

Phil Pavely / Chatham University

For the first time since its founding in 1869, Chatham University welcomed male undergraduates during this year’s convocation ceremony. Harvard University Graduate School of Education Professor Richard Light spoke to students at the event about getting the most out of their college experience.

Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

With a new board of directors and several upcoming performances, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture appears to be reinventing itself and establishing a presence beyond its history of financial and leadership complications.

The Center declared bankruptcy last year before being purchased by a coalition of Pittsburgh nonprofits at a sheriff's sale.

Opening nonprofit organizations requires a clear understanding of the group's vision, purpose and the community being served, according to Fragrasso Financial Advisors Institutional Investment Account Manager Gregg Daily.

How Point Park University Plans To Meet Changing Demands

Sep 1, 2015
Point Park University / Facebook

Point Park University President Paul Hennigan said he felt disbelief, shock and honor at finding himself among the most powerful people in Pittsburgh in the latest issue of Pittsburgh Magazine.