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

Jens Alfke

What makes a crime infamous in the eyes of the law? That's a question currently being considered by the Iowa Supreme Court as the justices make a decision that could impact about 57,000 felons in Iowa who are currently banned from voting. 

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks about the Griffin v. Pate case with law expert Tony Gaughan of Drake University, Jamie Ross, a rehabilitated felon from Norwalk, and Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Iowa City Latin-jazz group Ritmocano brings infectious grooves and soaring solos to the stage in The Java House. 

Lend an ear below for some insight into the group's songwriting process and Latin influences, as well as some original tracks. 

Ryan Harvey / Flickr

Iowa is one of only a handful of states where it isn't legal to cash out an online fantasy sports bet. That could change this legislative session. Rep. Jake Highfill, a Republican from Johnston, introduced legislation that would legalize cash prizes for participating in the games online. Rep. Guy Vander Linden of Oskaloosa, says that type of gaming needs regulation.

Amy Mayer

In 2015, an outbreak of avian flu led to the depopulation of 50 million birds across Iowa and the Midwest. During the height of the outbreak last summer, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration halted egg inspections to try to curb the spread of the virus.

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig says that the state halted inspections after the FDA announced they would do the same.

Remi Itani / International Organization for Migration / Flickr

More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, fleeing war, poverty, and ecological disaster. The influx has sparked a crisis, as European counties struggle to cope with the human flood. It's also creating division in the European Union over how best to deal with resettling people. 

Senator Chuck Grassley is caught in the middle of the controversy over whether or not to hold hearings on D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Jim McCormick, political science professor at Iowa State University says that the move to block hearings on the nomination is “odd.”

From tomorrow on, the previously state-run Medicaid system will be managed by private companies called "managed care organizations," or MCOs. In the lead-up to the switch, many of those who benefit from Medicaid have struggled with getting information about coverage, payment, and benefits.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer chats with local acoustic-rockabilly group Cedar County Cobras. 

Check out the podcast below to hear about the group's familial ties, as well of some tracks off their new record, "Delta Ave Juke Joint."

dagnyg / Flickr

Johnston father of three, Nathan Gibson, would like to take his daughters to fire handguns at a shooting range, but under state law they can't handle pistols until the age of fourteen.

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Gibson and one of Gibson's daughters about their effort to eliminate the handgun use age limit. 

Pete Zarria / Flickr

Last weekend in Cedar Rapids, two people died of gunshot wounds in separate incidents. Community leaders gathered for a press conference Monday to discuss possible solutions. Among them was Dedric Doolin, Cedar Rapids Branch President of the NAACP and Director of the Area Substance Abuse Council. He says the problem of gun violence isn’t new and neither are attempts to solve it—from law enforcement, individuals, religious organizations, and non-profits.

Payton Chung, Flickr / Wikimedia Commons

When filmmaker Ronit Bezalel first arrived in Chicago as a film student in 1994, all she knew about Cabrini Green was its reputation. "I could see Cabrini from the windows of the 'L,' and people told me to avoid it at all costs. I wanted to know why I couldn't go there."

Pipeline developer Dakota Access, the subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer partners has been granted eminent domain powers by the Iowa Utilities Board in order to build the Bakken pipeline, an interstate crude oil pipeline that would cut diagonally across the state for 343 miles. It’s the first interstate pipeline that could be built in the state in 15 years.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Ben Kieffer hosts Iowa City bluegrass group Flash in a Pan and their high-octane, witty brand of music. 

Check out the podcast below for some pick-me-up tracks from the outfit's new record, Antidote to Sell, and some stories from the band's time on the road. 

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?

Pages