Essential Pittsburgh

Engaging stories and important interviews about how Pittsburgh lives — and how it’s evolving.

Department of Veterans Affairs

There are more than 71,000 female military veterans living in Pennsylvania, according to recent numbers from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Pittsburgh resident Kayla Williams was recently appointed to become the director of the VA Center for Women Veterans by Secretary Robert McDonald. Williams, who is a former intelligence specialist in the United States Army and served as a Arabic linguist, is also the author of two books chronicling her deployment to Iraq and return home. “Love my Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army”, a memoir about her deployment to Iraq. And “Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of War.” She joined us to talk about her new role and the challenges facing female veterans in the United States.

Outgoing Chatham President Emphasizes Need For Global Education

Jun 8, 2016
Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

After 24 years as president Dr. Esther Barazzone is retiring this summer. During the two decades of her tenure the university has undergone a number of changes. One of the most notable was the admission of male undergraduates at the long time all-women’s school. We’ll discuss Dr. Barazzone’s career at Chatham when she  joins us, as the latest guest in our exit interview series.

David Holt / flickr

Speaking yesterday in London, British Prime Minister and EU-backer David Cameron compared leaving the European Union to detonating "a bomb under our economy." Nevertheless, Mr. Cameron is facing a growing tide of support for Britain leaving the EU. What is the likelihood a Brexit will occur? And what would the economic and political future of the EU look like without the UK? We'll put these questions to our guest William Adams, Vice President and Senior International Economist for the PNC Financial Services Group. He's speaking at a World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh Luncheon Panel Discussion next Monday entitled "The Brexit and the Future of Europe."    

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

Why do certain bottles of liquor end up in just one of Pennsylvania’s more than 600 wine and spirit stores? Attempting to find an answer to the question led Jacob Quinn Sanders to develop Boozicorns — a map listing those difficult-to-find bottles of alcohol that exist in only one location within the state.

Penguins' First Goalie Remembers Early Days Of The Franchise

Jun 7, 2016
Pittsburgh Penguins / NHL

What was it like to be a professional hockey goalie in the 1960s and 70s, facing 100 mile an hour slap shots without a mask, losing most of your teeth and enduring hundreds of stitches? We’ll ask former Penguins goalie Les Binkley, who debuted with Pittsburgh's NHL franchise in 1967.

What Will Happen To Wilkinsburg's 'Tiger Pride?'

Jun 7, 2016
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Graduation at Wilkinsburg High School this year was a little more sentimental and bittersweet than in the past. The 2016 seniors were the final group to graduate from the school, as the district prepares to merge its students with Pittsburgh Westinghouse in Homewood.

Jonathan Lin / flickr

Among the recent environmental news coming out of Harrisburg, former Pennsylvania DEP secretary David Hess says the Commonwealth isn’t focused on the real issue: how to restore PA as a leader in environmental preservation. He’s laid out ten opportunities for leadership in a post on his blog and joins us from Harrisburg with his perspective.

Mark Goebel / flickr

Following the resignation of former DEP secretary John Quigley, many are trying to evaluate the environmental climate of Pennsylvania. While some claim Quigley was ousted for political reasons, others believe his actions were disrespectful and ill-mannered. We’ll hear thoughts from PennFuture President and CEO Larry Schweiger as well as Kevin Moody, General Counsel & Vice President Government Affairs of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association. We’ll also look at the motivation behind the emails that reportedly prompted Quigley’s resignation, including regulations on oil and gas industry drilling.

Maranie Rae /

For three weeks this past April, Pittsburgh-based photographer Maranie Rae Staab traveled to Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan with Global Outreach Doctors. She documented their work and the people they helped during her time there, calling them some of the most warm and generous individuals she'd ever encountered.

Everybody (Was) Workin' For The Westinghouse Weekend

Jun 3, 2016
Emily Stock / 90.5 WESA

135 years ago this week, George Westinghouse Jr. did something huge for the labor industry. No, it was not a new invention or company. 135 years ago, Westinghouse gave his workers a half-day on Saturdays, telling them to pursue their interests and take some time off. To tell us more about this moment in history, we visited Anne Madarasz, vice president of the Museum Division at the Heinz History Center.

Joel Penner / flickr

Allegheny County recently tested 15 percent of children under the age of eight for lead exposure and found more than 7 percent had higher than recommended levels in their blood. In response, Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, called for legislation mandating the testing of all children in the state.

Ashley Murray, multimedia editor for the Pittsburgh City Paper, talked to several people about the extent of the problem in the area.

Pens' Continued Success Propels Pittsburgh's Economy

Jun 2, 2016
Emily Stock / 90.5 WESA

After seven years, the Pittsburgh Penguins have a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in franchise history. While the Penguins’ Stanley Cup Final appearance can benefit players, coaches and the league economically, local businesses also have a chance to prosper. 

Clemente's Social Significance Remembered

Jun 2, 2016
Anonymous / AP Images

May 31 is Roberto Clemente Day, a day set aside to remember one of the most prominent heroes in baseball history. A pioneer for Latino players, he was the first to reach the Hall of Fame, and he lived his life with a great sense of pride for his roots. David Maraniss, sports journalist and author of Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero, spoke of Clemente’s pride for his culture and his devotion to social justice.

What Makes Armstrong County 'Trump Country?'

Jun 2, 2016
Tony Webster / flickr

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Chris Potter traveled to Ford City, Pennsylvania to explore the hold Donald Trump has on area residents who feel left behind by the region’s post-industrial economy.

Following Pennsylvania’s primary, Potter analyzed the results and saw that Republican voters in Fayette and Armstrong counties supported Trump in greater numbers than other areas of Western Pennsylvania. A bit more digging led him to Ford City — a factory town established by John D. Ford, the founder of PPG.

Pennsylvania Treasury

Pittsburgh was recently named one of the top ten cities in the United States for small business activity, according a new study of entrepreneurial activity across the country conducted by the Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, Mo.

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse, Pennsylvania Treasurer Timothy Reese applauds the city’s comeback, but wants to continue providing resources for small businesses looking to expand throughout the Commonwealth.

Reflected Serendipity / flickr

According to the United Nations, approximately one billion people in the world live in sub-standard housing. Some researchers see a viable solution in a unlikely suspect: bamboo.

The plant is a safe and affordable resource that advocates believe could contribute to greener urban environments across the globe.

Paul L. Dineen / flickr

In a recent article for our content partner Public Source reporter Eric Holmberg addresses Pennsylvania’s reporting of open data. It appears the Commonwealth is one of 25 states that doesn’t provide an open data website. We’ll discuss what’s being done to make the state more forthcoming with information and analyze how helpful the site could really become. 

Steven Hackman / Stereo Hideout Facebook

The Beatles will cozy up to Mozart when the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh performs its Defying Gravity program at Point State Park Monday evening as part of this year’s Three Rivers Arts Festival.

Steve Hackman will conduct the Choir. He also composed and arranged the program, which pairs contemporary artists like Radiohead with classical composers like Brahms. Hackman began such work with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra as the creative director of Fuse@PSO, a position created for him.

Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

Singer-songwriter Benjamim Scheuer's critically-acclaimed, autobiographical, one-man show The Lion is currently onstage at City Theatre. Scheuer performed three new songs, "American Flowers," "Reykjavik" and "Williamstown" exclusively for Essential Pittsburgh. 

'Zodiac Heads' To Loom Over CMOA Visitors This Summer

May 31, 2016
Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

A dozen monolithic sculptures by the acclaimed Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei are on display at the Carnegie Museum of Art this summer.

Visitors to the museum's Hall of Architecture can stand in the shadows of the larger-than-life statues of "Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads," which officially opened on Saturday. Each of the 12 bronze statues weighs between 1,500 and 2,500 pounds, and each depicts the head of an animal of the Chinese Zodiac.

David Bachman / Pittsburgh Opera Facebook

The Internet and television provide access to unbelievable amounts of art, all that can be experienced in the comfort of one’s living room, but is it stopping people from experiencing art at theaters and museums?

While marketing directors like City Theatre's Laura Greenawalt and Christian Cox of Pittsburgh Opera are aware of the challenges of getting folks to leave their home, both are constantly working to bring in new patrons.

Point Park University

Former Pittsburgh Tribune-Review investigative reporter Andrew Conte knows newspapers. The industry is not dying, he said.

As the new director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, Conte -- still a monthly columnist -- is using his delight for an evolving craft to help prepare aspiring storytellers.


All Things Considered host Kelly McEvers joins us to discuss her NPR podcast, Embedded. The program takes a story from the news, and takes a deeper look at the issue involved. These issues include what it feels like for a father in El Salvador to lie to his daughter about the bodies he saw in the street to what it feels like for a nurse from rural Indiana to shoot up a powerful prescription opioid.

Matt Rourke / AP Images

Earlier this week, a Pennsylvania judge determined that comedian Bill Cosby would stand trial for an alleged sexual assault that took place in 2004.  

The case concerns Temple University employee Andrea Constand, who was the first person to publicly accuse Cosby of sexual assault. Since then, more than 50 other women have come forward with similar stories.

Emily Winslow / Harper Collins

In January of 1992, Carnegie Mellon University student Emily Winslow left her Shadyside apartment to get change for a dollar to do her laundry. She was followed home by an unknown man who broke into her apartment and raped her.

Socialize Right Program Teaches Students How To Be Safe Online

May 26, 2016
Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

It seems a week doesn’t go by without a celebrity, athlete or politician posting something controversial on Facebook or Twitter. With more young people communicating via social media how do you keep them from making these kinds of blunders? That’s that goal of Socialize Right and we’ll discover how they’re accomplishing this mission with its developer Eric Sloss and Terry O'Hara, a consulting psychologist for Socialize Right.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Alicia Kozakiewicz recently spoke with seventh and eighth graders at Propel Schools about internet safety and being cautious online. The Alicia Project, Kozakiewicz’s platform, is deeply personal to her life.

Sip Tea And Contemplate Mortality At Death Cafe Pittsburgh

May 25, 2016
Marina Shakleina / flickr

“Death Cafés” have popped up in cities across the globe with a mission to engage in open dialogue about death and how death influences life, all while in a casual, comfortable atmosphere.

Co-organizers Rachel Butler, senior research coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research on Health Care, and Carolyn Thompson, death care professional, joined Essential Pittsburgh to talk death, local Death Cafés and finding meaning in life.

Mike Mozart

United States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Joe Wadlow is the founder of the Fallen Marine Motorcycle Run. He’s also one of the honorees at this year’s Tribute to Veterans sponsored by the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania. He’ll join us to discuss his service to our country and fellow veterans. We'll also hear from U.S. Army Reserve Veteran Shawnell Wade about how the VLPWPA helped her through her transition back to civilian life.

David Wilson / flickr

Labor advocates gathered Monday at the August Wilson Center for a panel discussion on the recently released report, “A Pittsburgh that Works for Working People.” The study, conducted by the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, included a series of recommendations they believe would improve the lives of Pittsburghers. The panel, which included economists, service workers and religious and elected leaders, discussed what steps the city would need to take to implement the proposals.