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

MIKI Yoshihito / flickr

What do snakes, turtles, zebra fish, and a program called CRISPR have in common? They are all involved in genomic research happening right here in Iowa.

The new Jurassic World movie is now in theaters, and there’s also recent controversial news that for the first time, Chinese scientists have edited DNA in human embryos.

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer chats with longtime Iowa musician Raldo Schneider. 

Download the podcast to listen to Raldo's distinctive country-folk. 

John Bollwitt

Traditional, big American breweries are in the midst of a global identity crisis. Meanwhile, craft beer microbreweries in the U.S. are flourishing like never before.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Economics teachers across the country use blackboards and chalk to teach people about supply and demand. The Planet Money team hands out candy to seventh graders.

Planet Money, a twice weekly podcast from NPR, sprung from an episode of This American Life that explained the subprime mortgage crisis. For the past six years, they’ve covered everything from the history of light to toxic assets, all to make the economy and finance more understandable to the average person.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer talks with world-renowned acoustic blues artist Catfish Keith. 

Download the podcast to listen to foot-stomping tracks off his new album, "Honey Hole."

Sam 17 / Flickr

Freda Sojka, CEO of Soothing Solutions, created Bug Soother in the wake of the 2008 floods, when gnats were bothering her five-month-old grandson. She had no idea that less than a decade later it'd be distributed throughout the world.

"If I'd known all that at the beginning, I might have named it differently. We're pretty stuck with the name now," she said with a laugh.

This Spring, Bug Soother launched in the UK. And Sojka is looking at other countries to introduce Bug Soother to; Panama is next on the list.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King says the government’s top priorities in the ongoing avian flu outbreak are safe clean-up of infected sites and indemnity payments for affected farmers. But right behind those, he says, is a need to better understand what has happened.

"The next thing that is important in that list of priorities is to complete the epidemiology study, which is the study on how did this disease get here in the first place and how did it spread after it got here?"

Thomas Bresson / Wikimedia Commons

Late last month, the White House released a strategy to try to protect pollinators, aiming to grow bee populations across the country in the next 10 years. As a part of that plan, there’s been talk of limiting pesticide use and developing products to help beekeepers combat the varroa mite.

Brookings Institute / Flickr

When Democratic Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders declared his candidacy, Hillary Clinton gained some competition. Sanders, who had only 8% support from Democrats in an April Quinnipiac poll, is now polling at 15%. 

While some believe Sanders' run may be harmful to Clinton's campaign, Dennis Goldford, Professor of Political Science and the Flansburg Fellow for The Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement at Drake University, says the move could bode well for her.

courteney / flickr

Last month, a former Iowa high school athlete, who is now in a wheelchair, received nearly a million dollars in a football concussion case. It’s the first damage award of it’s kind in the state.

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer finds out what questions the growing attention on concussions has raised about the future of football. Can school districts afford potential lawsuits? What can be done to make the sport safer for players?

woodleywonderworks / Flickr

According to the National Institute for Early Education, Iowa ranks 32nd in the nation for state spending on preschool.

Mark Shriver, President of the Save the Children Action Network, is working to try to change that. “Ninety percent of brain growth happens before the age of 5, but public investment is flat until that age. We spend billions of dollars trying to remediate. These kids are not entering kindergarten ready to learn,” he says.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer catches up with singer songwriter Ben Schmidt. 

Download the podcast to hear some tracks from Ben's upcoming projects. 

Health and Human Services Department, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging / Wikipedia Commons

How many hours of sleep do you think you need a night? New research shows that you may want to err on the side of more, not less. Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley have found that high amounts of the chemical amyloid are linked with disrupted sleep patterns.  

She was only one day away from going on maternity leave. On this news buzz edition of River to River, Omaha police officer Ken Fox remembers his fellow officer and Council Bluffs resident, Kerrie Orozco.

"We're grieving tremendously," says Fox. "I think that all we can take away from this is the support from the community, and also seeing what Kerrie did, what she lived every day. We can try to match up to what her vision was for this department."


R.T., who hails from the East Central Iowa, hasn’t had a drink of alcohol since July 3, 1986. He got sober when he was 26 after binging heavily on a daily basis.

“My life was in shambles. The best way I could describe it was outer confusion and despair. I truly couldn’t imagine living my life any different but I couldn’t imagine living three days any different.”

After going to a rehabilitation clinic, he was directed to Alcoholics Anonymous. As someone turned off by religion, he says he didn’t think it would work.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania, announced that he is running for President today. That brings the list of declared GOP presidential candidates to seven, with former New York Governor George Pataki expected to officially throw his hat into the ring tomorrow.  

Kedron Bardwell of Simpson College says that if any of those candidates want to win, they’re going to have to energize younger voters. “Young people are looking for someone new. From what I’ve heard around campus here, I don’t see a Rick Santorum or a Mike Huckabee catching fire in Iowa,” he says.

First-time Representative David Young, a Republican representing Iowa’s third district, stated in his campaign he wanted to ‘dismantle’ Obamacare. Now a looming Supreme Court decision could work towards that goal, by cutting Obamacare insurance for millions of Americans living in states without their own health exchanges.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend,"  host Ben Kieffer chats with the Ames based rock band The Colt Walkers.

Download the podcast to listen to tracks off their debut album. 

Pan American Health Organization

Earlier this month, a team of researchers released a study that found one major difference between life and death for extremely preterm infants—those born from 22 to 26 weeks of gestation—was how aggressively the doctors attempted to save the babies’ lives.

Al Madrigal / (c) 2015 Steffen Schmidt

Clinton broke her media silence earlier this week when she took questions from reporters in a bicycle shop in Cedar Falls. Though she's had a consistent presence in Iowa, analyst Steffen Schimdt says the campaign has yet to truly kick off.

"There is no Clinton campaign. What there is is these little weird visits to New Hampshire and Iowa, meeting with people in bicycle shops with very carefully hand-picked crowds of individuals who are favorable to Hillary Clinton. These are not open events, they're not big events, she's not rolling out big themes."

hyoin min / flickr

Democratizing entrepreneurship and creativity

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with co-founder Amanda West and speakers of this year's EntreFEST, a three-day event promising game-changing training and inspiration, featuring over a hundred entrepreneurs. They discuss why co-working spaces are becoming more popular, how tech can help factories thrive in the 21st century, and how politics, art, and contemporary culture inspired a thought-provoking t-shirt line.

  On this episode of IPR Studio One's Java Blend, Ben Kieffer and a packed Java House welcomed The Weepies back to the stage for the first time since 2011.   Download the full hour of superb songwriting and catchy melodies put forth by the husband and wife duo. 

Bob Elbert

Lake City is quickly recovering from an EF1 tornado that touched down Sunday night, tearing the roof off the community’s high school. Mayor Gary Fahan says around 25 percent of homes in the town are damaged, but clean-up is well underway.

Derell Licht / Flickr

The Obama Administration has lost ground in securing a pan-Pacific trade pact, after Senate Democrats refused to allow debate on a bill to grant him fast track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

Jim McCormick, Professor of Political Science at Iowa State University, said the aspect of moving trade agreements quickly through Congress gives Obama increased foreign power.

Lindsey Moon / Iowa Public Radio

Two years ago, Jennifer Marshall launched a project on Kickstarter to make it easier to talk openly about mental illness. “This is My Brave” was the product - a night of music, poetry and storytelling performed by and for people with mental illness and their advocates.

The event is coming to Iowa for the first time on Friday, May 15. Joseph Sorensen is a songwriter from Cedar Rapids who will be performing.

In 2009, Mark Becker shot Aplington-Parkersburg head football coach Ed Thomas during a schizophrenic break. He is now serving a life sentence for first degree murder.

His mother, Joan Becker, writes about her son and her family’s struggle with his mental health in her new memoir Sentenced to Life: The Mark Becker Story.

Joan remembers when she first started noticing changes in Mark’s behavior.

John Pemble

What do honey bees, baseball fields and coin-operated laundries have in common? This year, their owners are being considered as possible recipients of new state tax breaks.

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer is joined by lawmakers and IPR correspondent Joyce Russell to discuss various tax bills being debated at the capitol.

Senator Joe Bolkom, a Democrat from Iowa City and Representative Tom Sands, a Republican from Wapello, also talk about what could be done with any state budget surplus, including giving it back to taxpayers.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend" host, Ben Kieffer will chat with award-winning multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Anna Laube.

Download the podcast to listen to tracks off her new self-titled album.

Theodore Scott / flickr

A new report from the Iowa Wind Energy Association shows that Iowa produces the highest percentage of electricity by wind of any state.

"And from everything we've seen data-wise, we'll probably remain there at least for the next couple of years," says Mike Prior, executive director of the IWEA. "That's really something to be proud of."

On this news buzz edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Prior about the findings in the report and what it will mean for the wind energy industry in Iowa going forward.

Adam Belz

According to Adam Belz, Iowa native and business reporter at the Star Tribune in Minnesota, Cedar Rapids has become the ultimate speed trap in the Midwest.

"I got a ticket a little bit over a month ago. I was looking at it, and I thought, 'I wonder if Cedar Rapids is getting known for this?'" says Belz, who then asked via Twitter if others experienced the same. "One of my friends who is in charge of a sales force fleet immediately tweeted me,  'I see more tickets from Cedar Rapids than I see from all other cities combined.'"