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 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.

John Pemble

Days before the Iowa caucuses, political opposites, conservative Christian activist Bob Vander Plaats, of The Family Leader, and LGBT advocate Donna Red Wing, of One Iowa, share their views on the 2016 presidential race.

Red Wing says there is a lot at stake in this election, citing her concern that the next president could nominate up to four justices to the Supreme Court.

Lindsey Moon and Kyle Hammann

Not everyone is a book learner. That's the idea behind a comic strip Iowa City based artist Kyle Hammann and Iowa Public Radio producer Lindsey Moon put together that explains how the Iowa caucuses work. 

"Comics are fun, and this has introduced me to a lot of information about the caucuses," Hammann says. "People learn differently, it's cool to think that a lot of people could see this and get something from it."

During this River to River interview, Hammann and Moon talk with host Ben Kieffer.

John Pemble

Just three days before the national spotlight reaches full intensity, Iowa’s Democratic and Republican Party chairs sit down with River to River host Ben Kieffer to discuss the unique process of each party’s caucus, their turnout expectations, and their take on the surprise populist candidates on each side.

Jeff Kaufmann, Chair of the Republican Party of Iowa, says he expects turnout to exceed that of 2012, when around 120,000 Iowans voted in the Republican caucuses.

John Pemble / IPR

This year's campaign for president has defied conventional wisdom. While analysts originally looked at fundraising and previous political experience, they overlooked one thing -- the state of mind of the electorate.

Jericho/Wikimedia Commons

Income inequality and the shrinking middle class are major themes in this election cycle, and that's just as true in Iowa as it is elsewhere in the country. Iowa, however, is one of the more equitable states in the country. That's according to David Peters, an associate professor of sociology at Iowa State University. 

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Nineteen states have adopted policies that leave questions about criminal history off a first round job application. Legislation to “ban the box” is now being considered in Iowa, with civil rights groups for the move, and some business leaders speaking out against it. During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Justin R. McCarthy, a welder with a felony conviction on his record, about finding work after being released from federal prison.

Liz Martin

In just over a week, the nation’s eyes turn to Iowa for the first-in-the-nation test of presidential candidates.

On this special edition of River to River, called "Pints and Politics," columnists Todd Dorman and Lynda Waddington of The Gazette, as well as Gazette political reporter James Lynch, join host Ben Kieffer and co-host Jennifer Hemmingsen to talk about what this very surprising campaign season means for Iowa and for the nation.

TEDx MidAtlantic / Flickr

Before Iowans make up their minds before caucus night, Jose Antonio Vargas wants them to consider a few more perspectives. The founder of Define American, a non-profit organization dedicated to pushing forward the conversation around immigration, he decided to bring that discussion to Iowans through film.

"The conversation is way too simplified. We don't have enough context and we don't have enough facts. The goal of this festival at its core is to really humanize the issue and to present a vast array of stories. There isn't one immigrant story."

Clay Masters

Twelve days before the Iowa caucuses, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad says a Ted Cruz victory in the Iowa caucuses would be a big mistake and very damaging to Iowa.

“I think it would be a big mistake for Iowa to support him,” says Branstad. “I know he’s hitting the polls, but the only one that counts is the one they take on caucus night.”

Marufish / Flickr

In Des Moines Thursday Night, the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network hosted a panel about the future of energy policy and technology. One recurring theme was that Iowa is an agent for change when it comes to clean energy. Heather Zichal, a native Iowan, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, and former top advisor on clean energy to President Obama, says that doesn’t come as a surprise.

Kevin Chang / Flickr

When President Obama announced his proposed changes to gun laws, pro-Second Amendment groups like the National Rifle Association responded negatively, calling the proposals ineffective and a distraction from terrorism concerns. Some Iowa gun owners, however, are supporting Obama's plans.

"I'm an avid hunter and I would like to say that I support what the President has got going on," says one caller. "I've never once thought of my guns as anything less than killing machines."

Pete Souza, Official White House Photo / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

President Barack Obama gave his eighth and final State of the Union address on Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress. Instead of a traditional speech where the President lays out an agenda for the coming year, the President took more of a long term view.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer is joined by Lyons, Colorado-based artist Arthur Lee Land, whose eclectic and dizzying use of live looping has been mesmerizing audiences across the nation. 

Listen in below to hear the story of Arthur's ability to re-frame what many deem a disability into a gift, and tap your feet to the joyous music that results. 

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer welcomes Iowa's own hot new soul group The Maytags. 

Listen in to the podcast below to hear the group's unhurried, inconspicuous brand of soul music that is putting the genre back on the map in the Midwest. 

Courtesy of John Little

Between the ages of 55 and 62, John Little completed 15 Ironman triathlons. For the last three years, he could only power-walk the leg of the race where he was supposed to run due to the pain in his knees.

“I finally went in and had my knees x-rayed. My surgeon told me, ‘I don’t understand how you’re walking right now.’”

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

The Iowa legislature is back in session today. Leaders are in sharp division over the state budget, and questions about education funding are fueling disagreements. The Senate wants a four percent increase, and the House wants a two percent increase. 

During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Senate President Pam Jocum (D) from Dubuque and Speaker Pro Tem Matt Windschitl  (R) from Missouri Valley about lawmakers' priorities for the 2016 session. 

apeofjungle / Flickr

Earlier this week President Obama announced a plan of executive actions meant to reduce gun violence in America. Among them are attempts to close the so-called "gun show loophole," increase FBI staff running background checks, put larger restrictions on those that buy firearms through corporations or trusts, and remove barriers to integrating mental health records into background check databases. In this News Buzz interview, Ross Loder, Bureau Chief responsible for the weapons permits section at the Iowa Department of Public Safety, joins Ben Kieffer to discuss Iowa gun law.

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