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.

Phil Roeder

Students across the nation are taking to the streets Saturday for what they’re calling the March for Our Lives. The main event is in Washington, D.C., but satellite rallies are taking place in cities such as Des Moines.

In this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with one of the Iowa organizers, Isabella O’Connor, a junior at Roosevelt High School. She says young people want changes made to the country’s gun laws.

In 2014, Bassem Yousseff, commonly described as the Jon Stewart of the Arab World, was forced into exile after being accused of and arrested for criticizing the Egyptian government. His show "El Bernameg," which translates to "The Show" ran from 2011 to 2014; before that, he worked as a heart surgeon. 

Courtesy of Nate Weiner

Every year, thousands of fires destroy millions of acres of wilderness.

“It sounds like a freight train going through the woods,” says wildland firefighter Nathan Weiner, describing the experience of fighting one of his first wildfires.

“We get plugged in off the side of the road, we’ve got aircraft flying overhead, and there’s a hundred foot flames screaming up the hill. It’s just that wild moment where you realize how small you are in the world.”

Nick Glenn / Flickr

bill making its way through the Iowa legislature directs local governments and police departments to comply with federal immigration authorities or risk losing state funding.

On this edition of River to River, legislative day co-hosts Ben Kieffer and Joyce Russell talk with lawmakers, law enforcement, an immigration advocate, and the mayor of Iowa City about their views on the proposal and how it may impact Iowa communities.

Jeff Eaton/Flickr

Gil Cranberg passed away on Sunday at the age of 93. His career as an editorial writer for the Des Moines Register spanned 33 years. He will be remembered as an ethical newsman whose work focused on civil rights, inequality, and criminal justice. 

Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Department of State

It's been another whirlwind week in politics. President Trump fired his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Twitter, to be replaced with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The president is also backing off of his promise to have a conversation about gun control; and the Stormy Daniels saga continues.

During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Rachel Caufield, associate professor of political science at Drake University, and Steffen Schmidt, university professor of political science at Iowa State University.

The White House

When polls rank America’s first ladies, the top spot often goes to Eleanor Roosevelt.

“She was the person who really embraced the role of the first lady and made it more public,” says political scientist Dianne Bystrom of Iowa State University. “She was the first first lady to give her own press conferences, she built the first lady staff […] and she was a spokesperson on African American and civil rights.”

Presidential historian Tim Walch adds, “She really was an exceptional individual – a real paradigm shift among our first ladies.”

John Pemble

Iowans say mental health services are among their top concerns when it comes to state-supported issues, and lawmakers’ comments on mental health make the issue appear bipartisan.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer and IPR reporter Joyce Russell talk with lawmakers about how they are working to address concerns regarding mental health care in Iowa, as well as fielding calls from Iowans who have tried to get themselves or their loved ones care.

John Pemble / IPR file

There has been lots of movement at the Iowa Statehouse this week. An omnibus energy bill that discussed earlier this week on River to River passed in the Senate and is now heading to the house. There's also a bill that would make it so the Iowa Supreme Court would require a super majority to vote a law unconstitutional that remains a live wire.

During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Iowa Public Radio's Joyce Russell and the Des Moines Register's Bill Petroski about what you need to know this week about what the legislature is doing. 

Clay Masters / IPR

President Donald Trump has announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Does that mean the U.S. is on the verge of a trade war? It's also been a week of departures for staffers at the White House, and Vice President Mike Pence visited Iowa.  During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Jim McCormick of Iowa State University and Dennis Goldford of Drake University about the week in politics. 

stu_spivack / Flickr

The human brain has substantially different dietary needs than other organs, and new research suggests that diet may play a large role in the development of dementia, obesity, and even ability to sleep.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with neuroscientist and nutritionist Lisa Mosconi, whose new book, Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power, explains how diet affects brain power and health.

Mosconi says that if she had to pick one food that’s best for brain health, she would say caviar.

Alan Levine/Flickr

A bill being discussed at the statehouse, Senate File 2311, could mean major changes in Iowa when it comes to energy. Opponents say it would end Iowa’s energy efficiency programs, the ones that provide rebates to customers for buying energy efficient appliances and doing things like energy audits and installing new insulation.

Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis

The U.S., Canada, and Mexico are heading into the seventh round of renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. President Donald Trump has called it “the worst trade deal in history” and has at times called for ending the program.

During this River to River conversation, host Ben Kieffer talks with Paul Connors, Canada’s Consul General, about Iowa’s trading relationship with Canada. According to Connors, 100,000 jobs in Iowa depend on a positive trade relationship with our neighbors to the north. 

John Pemble

Iowa Senate Republicans have been fast-tracking $1 billion dollars in annual income tax cuts, as Democrats warn that could force huge spending cuts on education and health care.
Hey Paul Studios

In the aftermath of mass shootings, we often hear about the importance of mental health diagnoses and treatment.

On this edition of River to River, we explore the services being provided in Iowa and as well as the mental health needs of the state in the near future.

A recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows nearly three-quarters of Iowans believe the state’s mental-health system is in crisis or is a big problem. / Flickr

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, but Iowa is one of a handful of states that does not mention this right in its constitution.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer and IPR correspondent Joyce Russell talk with lawmakers for and against the proposal to add the right to bear arms to the Iowa Constitution.
Vladimir Tkalčić

For this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined for the hour by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Steve Coll. His latest book is Directorate S. The book examines the CIAs role and America’s secret wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Coll's account offers a fifteen-year narrative which opens on the eve of September 11, and it takes the story up to the present.
Carol Browne

The mass shooting earlier this month at a Florida high school has inspired a youth-led protest movement across the country, including in Iowa, with students demanding changes to gun control legislation.

On this River to River, Ben Kieffer is joined by Ryan Westhoff, a sophomore at Cedar Falls High School. Westhoff participated in a protest outside Congressman Rod Blum’s office in Cedar Falls on Friday.

Food Bank of Iowa

One in eight Iowans struggle with hunger. One in six of those Iowans are children, according to the nonprofit organization Feeding Hunger. The Trump Administration has proposed replacing SNAP benefits with blue apron style food boxes, and calls for cutting food assistance for Iowans drastically in his proposed budget.
Cory Doctorow

The Iowa Senate will take up a bill requiring all school districts to work with local law enforcement and emergency personnel to develop safety plans for an active shooter situation. The bill advanced out of committee the day after a deadly school shooting in Florida last week.

Manson Northwest Webster Community School District Superintendent Justin Daggett says his district has a protocol ready.

"It is something that we are trained and prepared for and we pray to God that we never have to do it," Daggett says.

Emily Woodbury

A long-time Iowa advocate and fighter for the rights of the disabled, Tom Walz, passed away this week. Walz was the director of the University of Iowa School of Social Work.

He was also friend of the late Bill Sackter, and he established Wild Bill’s coffee shop on the UI campus.  Sackter then became the proprietor of Wild Bill’s, allowing him to finally be independent, after having spent 44 years confined to the Fairibault MN State School for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, River to River host Ben Kieffer talks with United States Ambassador to China Terry Branstad about a range of topics, including sanctions on North Korea, fentanyl regulation, and trade.

"Iowa as an agriculture producing state has had significant success marketing our agriculture products in all of Asia, but in China in particular," Branstad says.

The former governor of Iowa also discusses South China Sea territorial disputes, cyber security, censorship, and human rights.

Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

With a budget proposal, debate over a path forward on immigration reform in the Senate, a senior White House staffer being accused of domestic violence, and continued allegations about President Trump's so-called non-relationship with Stormy Daniels—there's much to discuss this week in political news.

John S / Flickr


Anonymous sources have played a big role in the flurry of reporting and rapid-fire revelations surrounding the Trump administrations and investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and possible collusion with members of the Trump campaign.

John Pemble / IPR

Opioid use is a growing problem across the country, and Iowa is no exception. During this hour of River to River, we’ll hear about legislation being considered at the statehouse to curb issues created by the use of opioids in Iowa. 

Iowa Public Radio's Joyce Russell, Republican State Senator Dan Dawson, Republican State Representative Shannon Lundgren, Republican State Representative Dave Heaton, and Democratic State Representative Chuck Isenhart all join the conversation. 

Iowa Department of Transportation

This week, 70 vehicles crashed within seconds of each other near Ames during a snowstorm. On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with accident reconstruction coordinator, Sgt. Chris Starrett of the Iowa State Patrol, about the work of investigating a pile up.

Philippe Roos

National politics have put coal in the spotlight. On this River to River segment, Ben Kieffer talks with former coal miner, Nick Mullins, about his work and the misconceptions about coal country. They also discuss the dichotomy between jobs and the environment and the political motivations of mining communities.

Mullins is the author of the blog "The Thoughtful Coal Miner." He will speak at Iowa State University at 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 19. His talk is titled, “Coal, Climate and Environmental Backlash.”

Clay Masters / IPR

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Dennis Goldford, professor and chair of political science at Drake University and Dave Andersen, assistant professor of political science at Iowa State University about the week's political news. Stories include last-minute federal budget negotiations, dueling memos in the Russia probe and Iowa's midterm caucuses.

Damon Taylor

In two out the past five presidential elections, the candidate who became president was not the one most Americans voted for. In this River to River program, host Ben Kieffer explores why our founding fathers created the Electoral College to elect presidents instead of relying on the popular vote.

Guests are presidential historian Tim Walch and University of Iowa political scientist Cary Covington. They examine the historical rationale behind the Electoral College and efforts to change its influence.

John Pemble

It’s been a month since the 2018 legislative session began. On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with three statehouse reporters to discuss the many issues being debated at the capitol, including: changes to Iowa gun law, plans to get tough on so-called sanctuary cities, speed cameras getting the red light, and proposed budget cuts to Iowa’s judicial branch, state universities, and human services.