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

Benjamin Thomas / flickr

He read all 32 volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica. He outsourced his life to India. After that he lived for one year according to all the moral codes expressed in the Bible. Today on River to River, a conversation with author A.J. Jacobs. We’ll find out about his year of living biblically and his latest lifestyle experiment - exploring different ways to reach peak health.

College Towns

Mar 14, 2013
Flickr / Sarah Cady

Recently Ames was ranked as the second best college town in the US by the American Institute of Economic Research's 2013 College Destination Index.   Iowa City came in close behind at fourth place.   What goes into making a great college town?  On "River to River" we talk about the attributes and special challenges of these communities.

assortedstuff / flickr

As drones proliferate and become more sophisticated, what questions does this raise in the international arena? Do drones present challenges we’ve never faced before?

It's politics day here on the program, and this hour we cast our analysis to the world outside our border. We take a look at how new technology, drones and cyber attacks, are shaping international politics. Also, updates on Syria, Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan. Our analysts are Lindsay Cohn, of the University of Northern Iowa, and Jim McCormick, of Iowa State University.

Jonathon Colman / flickr

Sequestration, immigration, drones, gun legislation…

Today on River to River, we continue our discussions with Iowa’s elected representatives in Washington. First, a conversation with Congressman Dave Loebsack of Iowa’s second district. Then, we’ll be joined by Congressman Bruce Braley of the first district.

The Nadas have carved a thriving career out of what was once their college pastime, consistently filling clubs and colleges across the country selling more than 125,000 albums through their own Authentic Records label.

This year, the group is preparing to release a new album, to be titled Lovejoy Sessions. Originally formed some 15 years ago in Ames, Iowa, their catchy, driving tunes feature great lyrics, a solid beat, and tight vocals.

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, schools are changing their intruder response procedure from a stay put and hide method, to a fight or flight response. Today on River to River, we talk with violent incident trainers and educators who are changing the way our schools and our children prepare for the worst case scenario, and how these changes are empowering teachers and students in order to keep them safe.

Flickr / Luciana Christante

Is National Napping Day on your calendar? Neurologist Dr. Eric Dyken--"The Sleep Doctor"--returns to "River to River" to talk discuss napping.  He'll also give some sleep advice as we go into daylight saving time this weekend.

Politics Day

Mar 6, 2013

The President’s approval rating fell over the weekend and his disapproval rating climbed to its highest level since November.  The tumble comes as the President and Congress failed to reach a deal preventing sequestration.  We examine the political impacts of the sequester and look ahead to the next big budget fight with Donna Hoffman from University of Northern Iowa and Wayne Moyer from Grinnell College.

CR Artist / flickr

Even though Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow, don’t bet old man winter is done with us just yet. Today on River to River, we talk about the winter storms we’ve had this year… and if there’s been progress towards drought recovery. Also, journalist Callie Crossley joins our conversation to talk about race relations in the U.S. and where there’s room for improvement.

R. Love / flickr

Today, we speak with a mother whose tragic firsthand experience led her to push for a certain type of mandatory screening for newborns. We'll also talk with a pediatric cardiologist and a state senator pushing a bill requiring the screening.

And, as the sequester deadline arrives, we touch in with various agencies across the state to find out how budget cuts may affect them.

ninadangelo / flickr

We know that climate change is dramatically and adversely affecting habitats of many endangered species, but it is also skewing the male-to-female ratio of certain animals. Today on River to River, we talk with two Iowa State researchers who study how climate change may halt the sexual reproduction of turtles, lizards and fish due to a lack of males.

Also, we sit down with Chris Brochu, an Associate Professor of Geology at University of Iowa to discuss recent research on the death of the dinosaurs that is making waves in paleontology.

Politics Day

Feb 27, 2013

President Obama broke the Republicans once on taxes – now he’s betting he’ll do it again on the sequester fight. Today it's Politics Day, and we look the strategies each camp is using to win over American public opinion and the possible outcomes. Also, a new Pew poll asks, which party is more out of touch? And, Michelle Obama’s charm offensive draws fire. What’s the role of the first lady anyway?


We now have evidence of hundreds of planets orbiting other stars – and that’s just in our little corner of the Milky Way. But are any of these planets Earth-like? Could they be …habitable?

Today on River to River, a conversation with astrophysicist Steve Kawaler of ISU.  He’s working with NASA’s Kepler Mission. We’ll talk about the mission’s amazing discoveries.

John Pemble / IPR

When Veterans return from active duty, transitioning back to civilian life is challenging. Team Rubicon puts veterans back on the front lines, responding to disaster, and renewing their sense of purpose.

Today on "River to River" we speak with the founders of Team Rubicon, Jacob Wood and William McNulty. They will be at Grinnell College next week to receive the $100,000 Grinnell Prize.

We'll also talk to Regional EPA administrator Karl Brooks. We'll ask him about the President's renewed focus on climate change in his recent State of the Union address.

simononly / flickr

The International Olympic Committee voted to drop wrestling as one of the core sports form the 2020 Games.  However, wrestling still has a chance; now the sport must apply for special inclusion, competing against several other events.

"River to River" speaks with wrestlers and coaches from around the state about what Olympic exclusion means for the sport, and the state of Iowa, which has a strong wrestling tradition.

tschundler / flickr

Recently cyclist Lance Armstrong, the seven-time victor of the Tour de France, was stripped of his titles when he admitted to illegal doping. Today on River to River, we talk to organizations around Iowa who are partnered with Livestrong, a cancer foundation that Lance Armstrong founded. We ask them what comes next and whether Livestrong will continue to live strong in Iowa.

In the second half, we talk with Zlatan Krizan, an assistant professor of Psychology at Iowa State University, about his new research exploring the connection between narcissism and envy.

Since 2007 The Uniphonics have established themselves as one of the premier bands in Iowa and Illinois. Playing on bills with internationally touring superstars like Victor Wooten, EOTO, Primus, The Roots, Matisyahu, Members of G-Unit, Rusted Root and Parliament Funkadelic have helped build an enthusiastic fan base.

Iowa City electronic/jazz/rock quartet Slip Silo celebrated the release of its first full length album, Monsoons, on April 14th, 2012, the follow-up to the group’s 2009 self-titled EP. Formed in the summer of 2008, Slip Silo is comprised of talented, thoughtful musicians who studied jazz and who have appeared in groups such as Koplant No, OSG, Big Funk Guarantee, The Critical Hour, New Beat Society, and many more. The band combines a variety of influences to create a unique sound that listeners find delightfully difficult to classify.

Bryce Janey is an outstanding blues/rock axe slinger from Marion, Iowa. He began his career at the age of 13, touring regionally and nationally from Chicago to Los Angeles with a blues-rock trio called the Janey's. Bryce began his solo career in 1995 and has received widespread praise and accolades ever since. His newest album, "Blues in My Soul," features "soul-powered, retro-70s bluesey heavy guitar six string mojo."

Crooked Still boasts their musical prowess as a non-traditional bluegrass quintet and celebrates the recent release of their fourth album, Some Strange County. Known for their high-intensity, unusual instrumentation and innovative acoustic style, this Boston based band says that Some Strange County is their most personal and visionary album yet. During its recording, they band worked with Grammy award winning producer and engineer Gary Paczos (Alison Krauss and Union Station, Dolly Parton).

An indie artist from Richmond, Virginia, and one of the producers for albums by artists such as The Counting Crows, Jason Molina and Magnolia Electric Company, David Lowery has recently decided it is time to debut a solo record. His new CD, The Palace Guards, comes alongside successful projects as a lead singer and guitarist with rockers Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. His debut solor project features thoughtful yet simplistic lyrical work and mellow electric guitar.

Thankful Dirt, the indie/Americana Des Moines-based duo of Darren & Molly Matthews, strums and sings while crafting an intimate look into the lives and pain of the everyman while finding a way to calm your soul. The beauty in Thankful Dirt’s music comes not only from Molly’s powerful, soul snatching vocals but also from the unique relationship the two share in the project. Together they ignite a sound both unique and universally appealing. Music lovers ‘dig’ Thankful Dirt.

Big Blue Sky started as a father-son duo in the mid-90s by Jon Stravers Sr and Jon-Jon Stravers. Their musical style includes the influence of folk, bluegrass, blues, and reggae. In their music they seek a closer connection to the planet, and indeed their musical writing comes from the inspiration of wild places and a celebration of our natural heritage and the natural rhythms of life.

Whitney Mann is an old soul with a child's glow. Her story is only beginning. It's the story of a poetic farm girl from Michigan who grew up to open for Loretta Lynn. It's the story of a young woman whose voice will break your heart but whose songs will bring you back for more. Her new package of country ballads and barn tales is called The Western Sky.

Averaging over 100 shows per year, Chad Elliott has been on the road for more than a decade performing a blend of roots, blues and folk music. He has played across the country and has been lauded as a modern-day troubadour.

The Awful Purdies are an eclectic quintet of female multi-instrumentalists who take turns stepping up as song writer and lead singer. The ensemble purdify's each song they meet, letting the song lead the way. One song might require channeling the Andrew's Sisters, while another song might reach out to a rock-a-billy or Motown sensibility.

The Candymakers of Davenport, Iowa offer a sound that is contemporary, yet keeps the essence of old-school groove bands of music past. Emulating the many talents of artists such as Ben Harper, Aretha Franklin and BB King, it’s important to the band to produce an original sound that keeps fans craving for more.

Songwriters Sam Knutson and Milk & Eggs (Jordan Sellergren) have recently collaborated for The Englert Theatre's Iowa City Song Project, recording their duet "Up the Street From You" as part of the Englert's centennial celebration.

Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys are giving a nod to American traditional music, while boldly taking their own songs in new directions. Distinct vocals, tight harmonies, instrumental expertise, and creative arrangements are all essential characteristics of their unique sound. The group focuses on the original tunes of Lindsay Lou Rilko, which include true-life tales of bank-robbing aunties, moonshinin' grandpas, and celebrations of love, life, and nature.

Caroline Smith and Jesse Schuster—of Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps—will play a special duo performance on November 2nd for IPR’s Java Blend. This past summer, Caroline and Jesse toured as a duo, appearing at a small handful of intimate shows hosted in people's houses and living rooms across the Midwest.