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 

Analyzing Growth In Pennsylvania's Rural Counties

Oct 21, 2015
Nicholas A. Tonelli / flickr

An analysis of the commonwealth’s population by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania indicates new residents are choosing to settle in exurban areas over cities and suburbs.  The trend has caught the eye of community development groups in Western Pennsylvania, where counties like Butler and Washington are seeing rapid population growth.

“They see opportunity there and they’re taking advantage of it,” explains Rural Pennsylvania Senior Policy Analyst Jonathan Johnson.  He says Pennsylvania has 48 rural counties and 19 urban counties, which are based on whether they fall above or below a 284-persons per square mile population density line.  

Tracking The Hidden Holocaust

Oct 20, 2015
National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education / Seton Hill University

A common snapshot of the horrific events of the Holocaust might traditionally focus on the death camps and gas chambers in places like Treblinka and Auschwitz, but one area group is working to uncover the stories of some lesser known victims.  Researchers at the National Catholic Center of Holocaust Education at Seton Hill University are employing new equipment to uncover and document the lives of Soviet Jews during the Holocaust.

City of Pittsburgh


Councilman Dan Gilman’s campaign finance and ethics reform bills received final approval from City Council Tuesday morning.

He said the bills are part of a “new era of transparency” in city government.

One of the bills revives the city’s defunct Ethics Hearing Board, which Gilman said hasn’t met in at least five years. It also puts whistleblower protections in place for those who report misconduct.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

As governments become more equipped with intelligence and technology, future wars may take place on a keyboard instead of a battlefield. In his novel Ghost FleetPeter Singer, senior fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC melds fact and fiction in addressing the future potential of cyber war. He recently addressed the topic as a guest of the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh

In order to preserve authenticity, Singer and his team went out and talked with people who could potentially be in these roles if a cyber war were to ensue---anyone from Navy ship captains to anonymous hackers. Approximately four hundred end notes in the novel refer back to his extensive research.

Though Singer has published numerous non-fiction works, he found creating fiction, "both liberating and challenging.”

norsecorp.com / http://map.norsecorp.com/

Today’s news about possible hacking of the CIA director reinforces the increasing concern for the United States.  Guest host, and Tribune Review investigative reporter Andrew Conte, sat down with Pittsburgh FBI agents Chris Geary and Mike Christman to talk about what the agency has been doing to help keep American information safe.

Agent Geary heads one of two cyber security teams stationed in Pittsburgh whose main focus is on hacks coming from China. Geary’s team was successful in indicting five Chinese military officers, who are accused of stealing information from companies in Pittsburgh.

NCFTA: the Local Cyber Company You Don't Know

Oct 19, 2015
Flickr Creative Commons

The National Cyber Forensics & Training Alliance (NCFTA) is a little-known non-profit operating out of the Second Avenue Technology Corridor. NCFTA President Emeritus Maria Vello sat down with us to discuss how the organization is bringing together federal agents, academics and business security workers in the fight against hackers. 

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

The Strip District: it's the most requested map in the city of Pittsburgh and one of the most diverse, authentic and colorful neighborhoods.  Essential Pittsburgh visited business owners, local shoppers and city officials about what makes the neighborhood work, how they’re collaborating to keep its “old world” feel, and where they’d like to see it go from here.  Up front, Essential Pittsburgh's Katie Blackley speaks with Neighbors in the Strip board president Don Orkoskey and vice president Bonn McSorley. 

Communicating Black And Gold To The Red Planet

Oct 15, 2015
Joe Wos

Are we alone in the universe?

It’s a question that has plagued mankind for hundreds of years. But in the early 20th century, a Pittsburgh inventor attempted to solve that problem. Pop culture contributor Joe Wos sat down with Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer to tell the story of inventor, Alexander Foster Humphrey.

The tale begins in 1899 with famed inventor Nikola Tesla receiving a message, believed to be from Mars, consisting of three dots. While Tesla was largely ignored at the time, Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi announced he received a similar message in the 1920s.

Greenfield Bridgefest Helps A Neighborhood Say Goodbye

Oct 15, 2015
Greenfield Community Association / Facebook

Greenfield Bridge is coming down and a party is being held to send it off in style. We’ll talk with City Councilman Corey O'Connor about how Greenfield Bridgefest will raise awareness of the local businesses impacted by the temporary loss of the bridge. And event co-chair Patrick Hassett joins us to explain how exactly they are “celebrating" when the event is held on Saturday.

Evan Agostini / AP Photo

The movie “Truth” opens this weekend. It tells the story of a now-infamous report by Dan Rather, then with CBS, that explored and questioned the military record of former President George W. Bush and his service in the Texas National Guard that kept him from being sent to Vietnam. The movie stars Robert Redford as Rather and Cate Blanchett as “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes. The film is based on Mapes’ bestseller “Truth and Duty: The Press, The President And The Privilege Of Power.”

Dan Rather discussed the incident at the heart of “Truth” as well as the state of journalism in an archived interview with Essential Pittsburgh host Paul Guggenheimer on March 19, 2014.

Covering World Events With James Coomarasamy

Oct 15, 2015

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is the world’s oldest national broadcasting organization, providing news to the United Kingdom and worldwide.

James Coomarasamy, a BBC host has been a reporter in Moscow, Warsaw, Paris, and Washington. He was recently in Pittsburgh for the Public Radio Program Director’s Conference and made time for an interview on Essential Pittsburgh.

Alleviating Congestion On Pittsburgh's North Shore

Oct 14, 2015
Surtrac / http://www.surtrac.net/

It’s a well-known Pittsburgh piece of advice: don’t go to the North Shore on game days if you don’t have to.  The riverfront neighborhood is routinely congested by drivers and pedestrians during events.  The Stadium Authority of the City of Pittsburgh is looking to alleviate some of that congestion and has hired East Liberty-based Rapid Flow Technologies LLC as transit consultants.  The organization is a CMU spin-off that’s already significantly helped decrease emissions and wait times in East Liberty.  Rapid Flow Technologies Chief Technology Officer Greg Barlow has analyzed his company’s results and stops by Essential Pittsburgh to explain.

What's Next For Syria, Russia And The U.S.?

Oct 14, 2015
Alexei Nikolsky / AP Images

Mark Katz, George Mason University Russian and Eurasian Studies professor, joined Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer to discuss Russia’s recent bombing campaign in Syria.

Although the bombings seemed surprising, Katz said he thinks the intelligence community saw signs that this was going to happen.

“When the people up on top are distracted, or simply don’t want something to happen, there’s a tendency not to see or hear these signals,” he said. “So I would imagine that when the history of it is written, that there will have been several points in which warning was made but was ignored.”

John Locher / AP Images

When the five Democratic presidential candidates took the CNN stage last night at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, the atmosphere strongly contrasted that of the previous two Republican debates. 

“It opened as sort of a championship boxing match,” observed Duquesne University Associate Law Professor Joseph Sabino Mistick. “It was a great debate, it was a real debate.  It was boxing, not a cage match like we’ve seen on the Republican side.”

Honoring A Pirates World Series Win And Forbes Field

Oct 13, 2015
University of Pittsburgh Archives

On this date 55 years ago at Forbes Field in Oakland,  Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski hit his legendary homerun at the bottom of the ninth inning, clinching the World Series title for the Pirates over the New York Yankees.

In commemoration of the event, the University of Pittsburgh has set up a permanent photo exhibit in Posvar Hall celebrating the history of Forbes Field. Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer traveled to Pitt’s campus to meet with history professor and sports historian Rob Ruck.  The two toured the permanent photography exhibit and discussed the field’s impact on Pittsburgh sports history.

Previewing Tonight's Democratic Presidential Debate

Oct 13, 2015
Michael Dwyer / AP Images

As the first Democratic presidential debate unfolds tonight in Las Vegas, speculations continue over the nature of this debate and the character of those running.  With five or six candidates at the podiums (depending on if Joe Biden makes an appearance or not), each candidate will have ample opportunity to make their voices heard.

Terry Madonna, Professor of Public Affairs and Director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College says that tonight’s debate will reveal the combativeness of candidates.

“Each of the candidates has something to prove---something to gain and something to lose.”

Putting The Diary Of Anne Frank On The Stage

Oct 13, 2015
Pittsburgh Public Theater / Facebook

The Diary of Anne Frank hasn't been staged on Broadway since 1998 but the Pittsburgh Public Theater has opened its own production and it's receiving rave reviews. Local actor Randy Kovitz plays Anne Frank's father, Otto.

Kovitz joins us in studio to discuss the impact of Anne Frank.

Emily Stock / 90.5 WESA

Docked along Station Square in the Monogahela River sit two old-world style ships named the Niña and the Pinta.  They’re replicas of the original vessels sailed by Christopher Columbus during the Age of Exploration.  The Pinta joined the Niña about six years ago touring around the country, providing visitors a realistic experience of what life may have been life sailing in the 15th century.  First Mate Michael Sprague helps us recognize Columbus Day with a tour of the historic ships.

Stephen Z / flickr

Alert. Lockdown. Inform. Counter. Evacuate.

Combined to form the acronym ALICE, these terms outline a strategy to prepare students, staff and officials for the possibility of an active shooter situation.

Following a string of recent shootings at schools and on college campuses, many districts and universities are looking to implement programs like ALICE. 


Our sense of smell can tell us what’s for dinner when we walk in the front door, or bring us back to our fondest memories of childhood.

But how much do we know about the nose? Unfortunately, not enough.

What's Being Made At Pittsburgh's Maker Faire

Oct 9, 2015
Maker Faire Pgh / Facebook

From robots, to rockets to bicycles: this weekend, Maker Faire Pittsburgh will exhibit the work of many creative minds from all over the region.

Dale Dougherty, creator of Maker Faire, said ‘maker’ is an umbrella term that broadly defines anyone who builds, creates, or puts something together.

“I think one of the elements of Maker Faire is that we’re using technology often to transform materials and turn it into something that means something to us and to other people,” he said.

Joe McHugh

It was 2009 when journalist and writer Joe McHugh set out to find Helen, an African American woman who helped to keep his family together after tragedy threatened to tear them apart. His journey is detailed in his book “Coins in the Ashes: A Family Story of Grief, Gratitude, and Grace.” McHugh spoke with Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer about the quest to find Helen, as well as what inspired him to search for her in the first place.

The Color Of Sundays

Oct 8, 2015
Cardinal Publishers Group

Pittsburgh Tribune Review reporter and author Andrew Conte laces together a history of racism in sports and the creation of the 1970s Steelers dynasty with his latest book, The Color of Sundays.

The book tells the story of Pittsburgh Courier sports writer turned Steelers scout Bill Nunn Jr., who by 1970, was the first African American promoted to a front office position with the Pittsburgh Steelers as Assistant Director of Player Personnel. 

Though at first reluctant to have a book published about his life and work, Conte says Nunn warmed up to the idea when they agreed to make the story not just about one man and the Steelers, but rather as a story about black athletes finally getting recognized by the National Football League.

Grading Restaurants By Health Code Compliance

Oct 8, 2015
Omar Chatriwala / flickr

Facilities that serve food throughout Allegheny County must be inspected by a health official each year in order to continue serving customers.  Proof of this inspection can be found hanging in the restaurant in the form of an "approved-to-operate" green sticker.  Some officials don't believe this is enough evidence that the facility is truly abiding by the health code.  Public Source reporter Eric Holmberg and 90.5 WESA reporter and All Things Considered host Larkin Page-Jacobs have explored a proposed restaurant grading system that would categorize businesses with an A, B, or C, based on their health code compliance. They'll take us through what the system could mean for consumers, health officials and business owners.

Mayor Peduto On The Police Bureau's Growing Diversity

Oct 7, 2015
Keith Srakocic / AP Images

As word that one of the cadets moving through the Pittsburgh Police academy would upon graduation be the first transgender officer hired by the city begins to spread throughout the ranks and being reported by local media, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is calling it a non issue.

“I’m not even sure if that is the case,” said Peduto while on WESA’s Essential Pittsburgh.  “It’s not a criteria that we have as part of a test to become a police officer, nor is it something that we can even ask.”

Peduto said the criteria for becoming an officer is very different than asking about sexual identity.

City of Pittsburgh Council District 9

Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess is rolling out a few more details on his plan to preserve and expand affordable housing in the city’s East End.

“You have to rebuild schools, make the community safe, rebuild housing and rebuild social service entities all at the same time in the parts of the community on the edge, next to strength,” Burgess said.

Lawrenceville's Transformation Continues

Oct 6, 2015
Lawrenceville Pittsburgh / Facebook page

Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood is truly a tale of urban redevelopment. From a historically industrial district to the city's "hippest" spot, Lawrenceville has seen it all.  Business contributor Rebecca Harris walks us through what's happening in the community, including the best spots to eat and shop.

Bringing Mark Twain Tonight Alive Today

Oct 6, 2015
Jerry Mosey / AP Images

The longest continuously running stage show in American theater history, “Mark Twain Tonight,” is coming to Pittsburgh.  The one-man show was first performed in 1954 by Tony and Emmy Award winner and Academy Award nominee Hal Holbrook, who has staged it at least once every year since then.

After a run as an actor in a two person show with ex-wife Ruby, Holbrook was desperate for work.  Through his connections with the son of Twain’s manager, he was steered toward performing a one man stage show as Mark Twain.  Having never read any of Twain’s books, Holbrook headed straight to the bookstore to immerse himself in the classic works in order to familiarize himself with the “character.”

A Century Of Steel City Cinema

Oct 5, 2015
Stephan / flickr

Pittsburgh is no stranger to the cinema.  From blockbusters like “The Dark Knight Rises” to the cult classic, “Night of the Living Dead,” the Steel City has a long and close relationship with Hollywood.  Pop culture contributor Joe Wos says the region’s film industry has been strong for a century, beginning with the production of the feature “Cupid’s Garden Party.” 

Chad Cooper / flickr

In August of 2014, after 15 days of testimony, U.S. District Judge Claudia Ann Wilken for the Northern District of California issued a ruling that used the Sherman Antitrust Act to strike at the heart of the idea of amateurism in college sports.  With this ruling, the NCAA could no longer prevent school athletic programs from compensating athletes for the use of their names, images, and likenesses. 

The case went back to a 2009 filing by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon who sued the NCAA after seeing his likeness portrayed in a video game without his permission, and without receiving compensation.