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 

What Will It Take To Close Guantanamo Bay?

Feb 24, 2016
Ben Fox / AP Images

President Obama’s spoke Tuesday about U.S. operations at Guantanamo Bay military detention center, saying the facility was “a stain our broader record” and “does not advance our national security.” His address aligns with his 2008 campaign promise to close the prison.  Haider Ala Hamoudi, associate professor of Law and associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at the University of Pittsburgh, is an expert on Guantanamo Bay and shares his thoughts on the facility’s closure and politics surrounding its operation.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

This Saturday, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Manfred Honeck, presents a special anniversary concert at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland. It was 120 years ago on February 27, 1896, that the Pittsburgh Orchestra played its very first notes as an ensemble. We'll talk with Manfred Honeck and Melia Tourangeau, the new president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Jamie Martin / AP Images

By now, you have probably heard that Pulitzer Prize winning author Harper Lee died this past Friday at the age of 89. Her most famous book, "To Kill A Mockingbird," is one of the most celebrated novels of the 20th century.  Her only other published work, "Go Set a Watchman," came out this past July. 

To celebrate her life and legacy, Tony Norman, book editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a piece titled, "She Wrote the Book We All Read in High School."  He joined Paul Guggenheimer on Essential Pittsburgh to discuss her timeless writing. 

'Here One Day' Film Explores Suicide And Mental Illness

Feb 22, 2016
Here One Day

Suicide has become the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. The family and friends left behind after this tragedy struggle to understand and talk about it. Kathy Leichter is a documentary filmmaker and former WQED Associate Producer. She’s in town today to screen her award-winning film “Here One Day” about her journey revisiting her mother’s belongings after her suicide. Afterward she’ll host a conversation to talk about mental health and the stigma surrounding suicide. She joined us from New York to talk about the film and the screening.

How Realistic Is The American Dream?

Feb 22, 2016
Marcus Charleston / WESA

Wealthy, poorly educated students are still statistically more likely to do well in college than poorer children with higher ambitions and intellectual aptitude. Income inequality and class divides are some of the most significant problems facing American society, according to public policy expert Robert D. Putnam.

Helping SNAP Recipients Keep Their Benefits

Feb 19, 2016
Nick Saltmarsh / flickr

Beginning June 1st, nearly 10,000 residents of Allegheny County will see their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits taken away. SNAP provides food stamps for unemployed or underemployed adults across the country. The loss of benefits has Rochelle Jackson, public policy advocate for the Southside based Just Harvest, concerned. She spoke with Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer about this issue.

Pittsburgh Opera's '27' Sings The Life Of Gertrude Stein

Feb 19, 2016
Pittsburgh Opera

The life and times of Pittsburgh native Gertrude Stein will be highlighted in the opera 27. Opening this weekend, we’ll preview the Pittsburgh Opera production with Laurel Semerdjian, who will be singing the role of Gertrude Stein and Adelaide Bodecker who sings the role of Alice B. Toklas.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Tonight at Heinz Hall, The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra presents the world premiere of famed percussionist Stewart Copeland’s “The Tyrant’s Crush” concerto.  Best known as drummer for the British rock group “The Police,” the five-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member actually got his start as a film composer.

Do High Taxes Play A Part In Keystone Exodus?

Feb 18, 2016
401 (K) / flickr

Last year, Pennsylvania lost one person to another state every 12.5 minutes as cited by the Commonwealth Foundation. According to a recent Gallup Poll state taxes play a contributing role in residents desire to leave the state they’re living in. However, can you blame taxes on the governor? We’ll ask Nathan Benefield, vice president of policy analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation.

What Does It Sound Like When Black Holes Collide?

Feb 18, 2016
R. Hunt/Caltech-JPL / Nasa

Researchers revealed last week they could confirm the existence of Einstein’s final general theory of relativity prediction after reportedly hearing the “chirp” of two black holes colliding.  The noise occurred billions of miles away, but was heard at several stations throughout the United States. Carnegie Mellon University physicist professor Ira Rothstein explains what this discovery means for researchers and how it’ll impact scientific theories going forward. We'll also talk briefly with Syracuse University senior and Fox Chapel High School graduate Samantha Usman, who was involved with the research and helped co-author the study.

Mora McLaughlin / 90.5 WESA

More than a dozen vendors have scrambled to find new locations, as the Pittsburgh Public Market prepares to shut its doors at the end of the month. 

The market opened in its current Penn Avenue location in the Strip District in 2013, when it moved from the Produce Terminal on Smallman Street. 

Pittsburgh Public Market General Manager Rich Westerfield said the owner of the building decided not to renew the market's lease.

MGM / Youtube

At the turn of the 20th century, Pittsburgh played host to a story of crime, murder, passion, and escape. The tale of the Biddle brothers made front page news across the country and was even later adapted into a movie starring Mel Gibson. Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer sat down with Andy Masich, president and CEO of the Heinz History Center, to hear the tale of this legendary prison escape.

Pablo Martinez Monsivias / AP Images

The passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is leading to a political maelstrom over who should select the next Supreme Court appointee.  Scalia, 79, was one of four members of the high court over the age of 75. The age of the justices has garnered attention after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was seen sleeping during part of the State of the Union address. This has lead some to wonder about the mental cognition of the justices as they age.

University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Garrow believes the advanced age of many Supreme Court Justices could be a detriment to the welfare of the nation. He recently wrote an op-ed for the LA Times titled, “Four Supreme Court Justices are Older Than 75. Is That a Problem?” Essential Pittsburgh’s Katie Blackley spoke with Garrow to about his perspective and research on the topic.

How Much Should Pennsylvanians Care About The Zika Virus?

Feb 17, 2016
Katja Schulz / flickr

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported last week that two residents of the state who recently traveled to affected countries were diagnosed with the Zika virus.  Although the women have recovered, and their infection serves no public threat, fears still linger about potential spread of the virus.  Should Pennsylvanians be concerned? Bill Todaro, medical entomologist for the Allegheny County Health Department, and Ben Schmitt, health reporter for the Tribune Review, joined Essential Pittsburgh to address this fear.

Why Concerts Might Be Sold Out Before They Even Go On Sale

Feb 16, 2016
Niven Sabherwal / 90.5 WESA

When it comes to ticket sales for sporting events and concerts everyone wants a piece of the action. So who can afford to attend events when your only option is to purchase a ticket from a scalper at an astronomically high price? We’ll pose that question to Ron Dick, associate professor of sports marketing at Duquesne University.

Charles Tasnadi / AP Images

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia raises many question for the country and the high court going forward. What cases will this affect? Who will President Obama nominate to replace him? Could an Obama Supreme Court nominee be stopped? We'll talk with David A. Harris, Distinguished Faculty Scholar and Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh.

Exploring McKinley's Beginnings At Allegheny College

Feb 15, 2016
Doug Butchy / flickr

President William McKinley is perhaps best known for leading America to victory in the Spanish-American War, but lesser known are his ties to the Pittsburgh area. The future leader of the free world served one term at Allegheny College, where he was known as a skilled debater, a gentleman, and a model student. Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer talked with Allegheny College historian Jonathan Helmreich about the legacy McKinley left during his short time at the university.

The Evolving Role Of First Lady

Feb 15, 2016

Jackie Kennedy, Mary Todd Lincoln, Martha Washington, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, these are some of the most well-known first ladies. But what about the other 40 women that have served in the role? C-SPAN Co-President and CEO and on-air host Susan Swain, along with executive producer Mark Farkas explore the lives of these women in their television special First Ladies and a book of the same name.  We’ll ask them about some of their favorite less-well-known first ladies and how the position evolved over the years.

The History Behind The Vice President's Song, 'Hail, Columbia!'

Feb 15, 2016

We’re all familiar with the tune Hail to the Chief,  as the President’s anthem.  But, did you know the Vice President has one as well?  We’ll discover the history behind the Vice President’s theme song, Hail Columbia,  with Deane Root, professor and curator for the Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Forgotten Influence Of President William McKinley

Feb 15, 2016
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Not many remember much about our 25th President William McKinley. Most recall his presidency as being ‘medicore,’ but William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum education director Christopher Kenney says the late Commander-in-Chief help propel the United States onto the world stage.  We’ll take a tour of the facility in Canton, Ohio and hear about McKinley’s early life in Ohio to his assassination in Buffalo, NY.

Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

 Car enthusiasts and consumers alike can kick the tires of the latest models from leading automakers this weekend as the David L. Lawrence Convention Center turns its event space into a showroom floor for the  Pittsburgh International Auto Show.

“We have every vehicle that’s on the market today. We also have some rare one of a kind vehicles just for fun,” says John Putzier, CEO of the  Greater Pittsburgh Automobile Dealers Association .

Comedian Paul Reiser Returns To Stand-Up

Feb 12, 2016
Richard Shotwell / AP Images

Famous for his performances in Mad About You, Aliens, Diner, Beverly Hills Cop, and the new film Concussion, actor and comedian Paul Reiser makes a return to stand-up at the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall next week.  Reiser joined Essential Pittsburgh to reflect on his life and career and preview upcoming projects.

Ian Ransley / flickr

While they may not be investigating high-profile crimes like homicide or robbery, Pittsburgh’s anti-graffiti squad provides a valuable resource to the city. Revived in Nov. 2015, the squad recently arrested one of Pittsburgh’s major taggers. To get the scoop on what led up to the arrest, Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer sat down with graffiti squad detectives Alphonso Sloan and Braden Seese.

Local Runners To Compete For Spot On Olympic Marathon Team

Feb 11, 2016
Laura Harnish

Hundreds of long distance runners will converge in Los Angeles for the Olympic Marathon Trials Saturday, each hoping to qualify to represent the United States in the games this summer in Brazil. Three of those who have met the requirements are Pittsburgh-area residents. Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer sat down with two them, Jed Christiansen and Laura Harnish, to learn what it takes to qualify for the Olympics.

Jacob Caddy / flickr

Should money collected from parking meters after 6 p.m. in some of the city's entertainment areas be reinvested in those areas? Should citizens even be required to pay for parking at night. Well, it's being considered by the Pittsburgh City Council. Joining us to address this issue is council president Bruce Kraus.

More Foster Families Wanted In Allegheny County

Feb 10, 2016
Elliot Brown / flickr

With recent changes to the foster care system both nationally and locally, noticeable trends have developed, including a decrease in the amount of children in need of foster care and a new process for placement.  Katie Stoehr, senior child welfare administrator for the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, visited Essential Pittsburgh to talk about the trends and the experience of fostering children.

Mayor Peduto Addresses The 'Two Pittsburghs'

Feb 10, 2016
Keith Srakocic / AP Images

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto makes his monthly visit to the program. In a recent University of Pittsburgh address, Mr.Peduto lamented the existence of "two Pittsburghs." We'll discuss his plans to address short and long-term inequities as well as his efforts to provide sufficient housing for low-income residents.           

David Goldman / AP Images

New Hampshire isn't the only state where there is lots of enthusiasm for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Even though the Pennsylvania primary is over two months away, young voters in the Keystone state are excited about the senator from Vermont including 26-year-old Adam Wells of Aspinwall who runs the twitter account @PittsBern. We'll talk with Post-Gazette Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello, who is covering the New Hampshire primary, about the chances that Sanders will be able to ride his momentum to victory in PA.   

Matt Rourke / AP Images

Does Pennsylvania have too many state legislators? That’s what Brian O’Neill, columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, believes. He has been advocating shrinking the legislature since 1994. Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer sat down with O’Neill to discuss the idea and how to make it a reality.

Is Pennsylvania's Primary Relevant?

Feb 9, 2016
John Minchillo / AP Images

As New Hampshire holds its' first in the nation presidential primary, voters in Pennsylvania are waiting until late April to cast their ballots for their preferred Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. We'll talk with Terry Madonna, Director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll, about the chances that the Pennsylvania Primary will still be relevant.