Ben Kieffer

River to River and Java Blend Host

Ben Kieffer joined Iowa Public Radio in 2000 and is host of IPR’s daily noon talk show River to River, which he also helps produce. Since 2001, he has hosted and produced IPR’s weekly, live music program which features artists from around the state and the country called Java Blend.

Prior to joining IPR, Ben lived and worked in Europe for more than a decade. He reported firsthand the fall of the Berlin Wall and covered the Velvet Revolution in Prague. Ben has won numerous awards for his work over the course of more than 20 years in public media.

Ben holds an adjunct faculty position at The University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where he teaches courses on interviewing and radio news. He is a native of Cedar Falls and a graduate of the University of Iowa.

Ben’s favorite public radio program is Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.

Ways to Connect

Photo Courtesy of Rita Dvorak

In 2015, Iowa had a record number of beach closures due to blue green algae blooms. That, in addition to a lawsuit filed against three northwestern Iowa counties, is bringing increased attention to water quality in the state.

Ben Kieffer

The shooting in Ferguson, Missouri and the unrest that followed sparked a vigorous debate in the country about the role of law enforcement.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer and producer Emily Woodbury visit the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) at Camp Dodge in Johnston to find out how training is changing due to the national debate over the role of law enforcement.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Iowa blues fixture Matt Woods wows a packed Java House with his versatile guitar work and powerful vocals. 

Listen in below to hear host Ben Kieffer chat with Woods about his impressive day job and the genesis of his latest release, "Sawdust and Gasoline."

University of Iowa student Emily Roberts met a 19 year old who lives in Afghanistan online, through a language learning exchange. The two became fast friends. 

"Sultana and I were talking and I was asking her questions so she could practice her English. I asked her what her perfect day was," Roberts says. "She said, 'well, I would wake up in the morning and study physics all day.' I thought that sounded like a terrible day, but that's when I knew I had to try to get her here." 

Herry Lawford / Flickr

Dr. Stephen Nelson first became aware of the LGBT healthcare disparity through another boundary that frequently occurs between doctor and patients--race. The director of the Sickle Cell Clinic at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, he found his patients shared a common thread.

Julie Falk / Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders dished out humble pie to pollsters this week, when he claimed victory in Michigan, after no poll showed him leading, or even closing the gap with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Polls showed Clinton leading in the state by double digits in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Iowa State University Political Science Professor Jim McCormick says, as in most elections, it boiled down to economics in a state hit hard by the recession, with companies moving overseas and the challenges facing the automotive industry.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Cedar Falls native and Twin Cities transplant Ben Cook-Feltz catches up with host Ben Kieffer about turning 30, getting married, and more. 

Listen in below to hear all this plus tracks from Cook-Feltz new album, "She Doesn't Believe Me." 

Kari Nousiainen / Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode

On Sunday morning, August 16th, three days after his 41st birthday, Wade Franck was hit by a drunk driver while riding in the Urban Assault Ride in Des Moines. His girlfriend, Jess Rundlett was behind him as the car approached, going very fast.

"It nearly hit me. I remember feeling the mirror whiz by my elbow, and by the time I thought to yell to Wade a warning, he had already been hit and was flying through the air," Rundlett says. "He was hit so hard that his shoes were knocked off and he flew about 30 feet."

Wade Franck died two days later.

NASA HQ PHOTO / Flickr

A federal appellate judge here in Iowa is a potential nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

On this news buzz edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Tony Gaughan and Dennis Goldford of Drake University about the interest in Judge Jane Kelly, and also why Iowa's Patty Judge is challenging Chuck Grassley for his Senate seat.

Also this hour, a check on the health of the Midwest economy, fascinating insights into the new global media ecosystem, and the first annual Pho King Cook-off in Des Moines.

It’s known that alcohol impairs the ability to drive, but what about marijuana?

On this River to River segment, Ben Kieffer talks with researchers at the National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS) about a first-of-its-kind study showing how marijuana impacts a person's ability to drive.

They found that participants who consumed only alcohol weaved more than those who consumed only vaporized cannabis.

"We didn't see a lot of those lane departures that we see with alcohol," says lead researcher Tim Brown. Adding that, "We still see weaving within the lane."

Billionaire Donald Trump won seven of the Super Tuesday primary contests to take a commanding lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also claimed victory in seven of the states voting Tuesday, making it all but impossible for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to overtake her in the race for the Democratic nomination.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Doug Collins' Receptionists are out, but Collins' acoustic treatment of his cleverly written songs proves just as pleasing. Listen in to host Ben Kieffer as he chats with Collins about dog sitting and papal miracles. 

Check out the podcast below for some tracks off of Doug Collins and the Receptionists' new release, "Complicated Compliments.

Richc80 / Wikimedia Commons

Monday night at a class 3A district basketball playoff game versus Perry High School, Dallas Center-Grimes students started yelling “Trump!”, directing the chant at Perry students where enrollment is nearly half minority students, most of whom are Latino.

Perry High School Principle Dan Mahburger says that administrators and officials at Dallas Center-Grimes High School immediately shut down the chant when they heard it and then sent students to formally apologize.

Mark Fischer / Flickr

Senate Republicans say there will be no hearings, no votes, and no new U.S. Supreme Court justice until the next president is sworn in next year.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with legal experts Todd Pettys of the University of Iowa and Tony Gaughan of Drake University about the impact Justice Scalia's death will have on current cases before the court, many of which are expected to now come down 4-4. Pettys says there could be an even number of justices until April of 2017.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, all eyes were on the Senate Judiciary Committee and its chair, Republican Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. Would the committee hold a hearing to vet President Obama’s nomination for the next Supreme Court Justice? A series of ambiguous statements from Grassley around the state last week are now clear: the Republicans of the committee will not hold any hearing until the next President is elected. Chris Larimer, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Northern Iowa, says that’s a risk.

Daniel R. Blume / Flickr, Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

The 1976 film, "All the President's Men," glamorized investigative journalism. The movie won four Academy Awards, was nominated for Best Picture and inspired a generation of investigative journalists. This year another film, "Spotlight," tells the story of an investigative team at The Boston Globe, who uncovered the Catholic Church's pattern of protecting priests accused of child sexual abuse. Will it spark the same inspiration in an industry facing financial struggles, that is growing increasingly fragmented and driven by a need to fill a 24-hour news hole?

Tom / Flickr

The Iowa Department of Public Health confirmed the first confirmed infection of the Zika virus in Iowa Friday. Brad Blitvich, associate professor of Veterinary Science at Iowa State University, who studies mosquito-borne illnesses, joined host Ben Kieffer to discuss its implications.

Is this case a danger to other Iowans?

Photo Courtesy of Karim Abdel-Malek

Santos and Sophia are soldiers that will never see combat. That’s because they exist solely as simulations in the University of Iowa’s Virtual Soldier Research Program. Thanks to a new $2.6 million grant from the Office of Naval Research, they’re equipped to model even more behaviors to prevent injuries for real-life marines.

Karim Abdel-Malek, the director of the program, says the stream of new designs of army equipment necessitates lengthy, costly trials that take up Marines’ valuable time.

On this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Milwaukee singer-songwriter Jay Matthes joins host Ben Kieffer for a solo acoustic set.

Listen to the podcast below for some of Matthes' clever lyrics and award-winning vocals. 

Werner Benger / NASA Blueshift - Flickr

Last week a team of scientists at LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, announced they successfully recorded gravitational waves resulting from two black holes merging into one. The existence of these waves, otherwise known as ripples in the fabric of space-time, were first proposed by Albert Einstein in 1916.

Phil Kaaret, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Iowa, says that this discovery “opens a new way of looking at the universe,” and that “it’s just beginning of discovery.”

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Even though lawmakers in the Iowa Senate voted to stop privatization of the state's Medicaid program last week, the measure is unlikely to pass in the Iowa House. The system is still slated to switch to private management on March 1 unless the federal government steps in. 

University of Iowa Muslim Student Association

The University of Iowa is reconfiguring two former offices in its Iowa Memorial Union to be used as full-time prayer spaces, primarily for the school's Muslim faculty, staff, and students. For Muslims, prayer is a ritual performed five times daily.

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer sits down with Saad Ansari, president of the University of Iowa Muslim Student Association, to discuss the need for a space for private prayer on campus.

Nicu Buculei / Flickr

Every four years, the post-caucuses sigh of relief comes with a pessimistic prognostication: the caucuses are done for. Much like pre-caucus think pieces on why Iowa doesn't deserve its first-in-the nation status, the proclamation comes from political pundits, deflated candidate volunteers, and strung-out news junkies.

Jamelah E. / Flickr

The Iowa legislature has considered legalizing commercial fireworks for years, though the proposal has never made it to the governor’s desk. This year, the debate is revived. 

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer hosts a discussion on Iowa's fireworks laws, along with Iowa Public Radio correspondent Joyce Russell. They also discuss a new proposal to allow teenagers to vote in a primary if they will be 18-years-old by Election Day. University of Northern Iowa political analyst Chris Larimer says this bill could increase the youth vote in Iowa.

Courtesy of Jingle Cross

Iowa City is home to one of the nation's largest cyclo-cross events, and the race will now become a World Cup event for the sport. Jingle Cross, which founder John Meehan organized for the first time in 2002, will be held at the Johnson County Fairgrounds September 22-25, 2016. 

Meehan says that even though cyclo-cross is a relatively new sport in Iowa, it's a great spectator event. 

US Department of Agriculture

An Iowa State University entomologist says he and other experts are keeping an eye on the Zika virus, but he is not too worried that it will be spread in Iowa.  The mosquito-borne virus has been found in about two-dozen Central and South American countries and has been linked to birth defects in Brazil.  

Ryan Smith is an assistant professor at Iowa State University and says Iowa’s cold winters will likely keep the mosquitoes that spread the disease away from this part of the country.

Amy Mayer

Knowing who is not going to make the presidential ballot got a little bit easier this week after the Iowa caucuses (several GOP candidates dropped out after low percentages of the vote), but determining the winners is a bit more complex.

Clay Masters / IPR

Billionaire Donald Trump may have dominated media coverage of the caucus campaign, but when voters finally had the chance to weigh-in, it was retail politics and campaigning, including visits to all 99 counties, that won the day for Texas Senator Ted Cruz. That's according to Kathie Obradovich, political columnist for  The Des Moines Register.

Maryland GovPics

Since 2009, University of Iowa political science professor Bob Boynton has been researching what Twitter can uncover that political polls cannot. Specifically, he says that tweets directly reflect what individuals are thinking, instead of being interpreted by the mainstream media.

"The reach of this is really quite extraordinary," says Boynton.

S Pakhrin / Flickr

In 1948, two small lines in a congressional bill meant quite a big deal for Iowa’s sole Native American tribe. In an unfunded mandate from the federal government, the Act of 1948 designated Iowa would take over judicial jurisdiction of the Meskwaki settlement from the federal government.

Pages