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

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

We’re just over two months out from the Iowa caucuses, and according to Republican strategist Joe Gaylord, we're going to see some sorting of the field between now and then. Outsiders like Donald Trump have been polling well, but Gaylord thinks that will change. 

Joe Gratz / Flickr

On this River to River segment, Ben Kieffer talks with Judge Kevin McKeever, the newest Sixth Judicial District judge.

McKeever is the first African-American judge in the district that covers Benton, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn and Tama counties. McKeever says his main goal is to "make people feel like they had their day in court.”

District Judge John Telleen also joins the segment to talk about Iowa’s business court pilot program, a new system built specifically for complicated business lawsuits. 

Benya Kreuger

On Friday, December 4th at 2 pm in the Java House in downtown Iowa City, IPR Studio One's "Java Blend" will host Iowa-born folk group The Pines. Stop by to hear the group chat with host Ben Kieffer, and learn about the group's much anticipated upcoming release, "Above the Prairie." 

Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

Ted Cruz has surged to a virtual tie with Donald Trump according to the latest Quinnipiac poll of likely Republican caucus-goers here in Iowa. Trump continues to lead the polls, even after suggesting that there should be a database keeping track of Muslims in America. 

During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Hans Hassell of Cornell College and Wayne Moyer of Grinnell Colleg about the new polls and about GOP rhetoric regarding whether the United States needs more intense screening procedures before welcoming Syrian refugees. 

On this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Iowa City's own Soul Phlegm takes the stage with their special brand of "blues roots outlaw funk." 

Listen in to hear host Ben Kieffer catch up with the band on their upcoming project, as well as tracks from their debut EP, "Phlourish." 

Photo by John Pemble / IPR

The Branstad administration is planning to shift Iowans who benefit from Medicaid to private management on Jan. 1, a move that would impact more than 560,000 recipients.

The governor contends that private management companies can offer more efficient service and save money, while those who rely on the program are worried, including Iowa City resident Heather Young.

“My husband and I are doing everything we can to keep the ship afloat," Young says. "Even with our best efforts, if this thing goes through, this ship is going to get torpedoed."

Versaland /

In his new book, author Courtney White points to the seemingly intractable challenges faced on earth: the increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, rising food demands from a population that’s projected to rise from the current 7 billion to 9 billion people by 2050, and the dwindling supply of fresh water.

UK Department for International Development / Flickr

Governor Terry Branstad is one of more than 25 governors who have said no to helping Syrian refugees. That didn't stop Mayor Chris Taylor from proclaiming Wednesday that the eastern Iowa town of Swisher welcomes them.

Photo by John Pemble

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is seeking the Republican presidential nomination. River to River host Ben Kieffer spoke with him Thursday, November 19 in advance of a campaign trip to Iowa City.

BK: Senator Paul, welcome to our program.

RP: Glad to be with you.

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, the number of heroin overdose deaths in Iowa has increased from three in 2007 to 20 in 2013.

“Six years ago we didn’t see heroin cases, just didn’t see it,” says Nicholas Klinefeldt, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. “Now we have heroin cases; we have heroin overdose deaths. It’s here, and I think the problem is going to get worse before it gets better.”

More than 120 people are dead in Paris after a string of terrorist attacks late last week, including one American. The attackers have been identified as Muslim extremists, and one of the terrorists is said to have gotten into France by posing as a refugee.

On this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Iowa City native songwriter Nathan Bell talks with host Ben Kieffer about how he blends literary and industrial influences to create relatable, powerful songs. 

Listen in to the podcast below for tracks from Nathan Bell's upcoming project, "I Don't Do this for Love, I Do this for Love," as well as special poetry readings from Nathan's father and Iowa's first poet laureate, Marvin Bell. 

Christopher Gannon

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer talks with Jim Davis, associate professor of information systems at Iowa State University, and two Iowa State University students, Steff Bisinger and Jason Johnson, about what it’s like to work in the booming field of cyber security.

MadMaxMarchHere / Wikimedia Commons


President William Ruud has been president of the University of Northern Iowa since 2013. He's overseen projects he's proud of like efforts to curb sexual assault and One Is Too Many and a project to promote mental health. He still says the best part of the job is direct interaction with students.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Back in 2013, Joni Ernst was a little known state senator and a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard. Today, she’s the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress.

Ken Vogel, chief investigative reporter for Politico, published an article yesterday detailing how the Koch brothers and their political network helped launch Ernst’s campaign. He says Ernst was a “beta test” for the Kochs.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

In a night full of sound bites, one candidate's lack of substance may have helped him stand out in a crowded field of candidates. Ben Carson, one of the 'outsider' candidates, didn't go into much policy in the third Republican debate.  Donna Hoffman, associate professor of political science at University of Northern Iowa, says that didn't hurt him.

"He has this huge likability factor but he's not being very specific in terms of policy, and so far that's working for him."

That's viable for Carson now, but Hoffman's unsure of its endurance as a long-term strategy.

On Friday, November 13th at the Java House in Downtown Iowa City, IPR Studio One's "Java Blend" will feature Iowa City's favorite The Burlington Street Bluegrass Band. Stop in to hear host Ben Kieffer chat with the group about their 200 collective years playing music. 

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer catches up with Dickie, the newest musical project of Java Blend frequenter Dick Prall and classically trained violinist Kristina Priceman. 

Listen in below to hear some tracks off Dickie's self-titled debut album. / Flickr

Iowa is facing a shortage of middle-skill workers, including those in the fields of nursing, welding, and manufacturing.

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer talks with people pushing for more technical and career training from the high school level onward, including Waterloo Community School District Superintendent Jane Lindaman and Dave Bunting, a longtime educator at Kirkwood Community College.

Francis Hannaway / Wikimedia Commons

In Iowa, it takes more time to get a license to practice cosmetology than it does to become an emergency medical technician. That's part of the reason why two Des Moines women are suing the state's Board of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences. Achan Agit is one of those women. 

Photo Courtesy of Johnny Case

Since the Ultimate Fighter debuted on mainstream television, watching Ultimate Fighting Championship fights has become increasingly popular across the country. Johnny Case, originally from Jefferson, will be taking part in Ultimate Fighting Championship Fight Night 77, to be held Saturday, November 7 in San Paulo Brazil.

Case says it was his background as a wrestler that led him to UFC fighting.

Tony Alter / Flickr

This week marks Paul Ryan's first week  as the new Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. On this politics day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with political experts Hans Hassell of Cornell College and Chris Larimer of the University of Northern Iowa. They share their predictions of how Ryan will fare in House leadership.

"You're going to end up with in-fighting among Republicans on how to proceed in the face of a veto threat from President Obama," says Hassell. "These structural differences and problems haven't gone away."

On this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," hear Dan Tedesco seamlessly meld Bob Dylan-esque lyrics with powerful guitar work straight from a Motorhead album. Join host Ben Kieffer as he chats with Tedesco about his contrasting influences and high-energy stage show. 

Listen to the podcast below to hear tracks from Tedesco's new self-titled album. 

Reese Erlich

There are interviews you spend hours sweating over, and then there are situations like the one faced by award-winning foreign correspondent Reese Erlich on a recent trip to Jordan. That's where he interviewed Abu Qatada, once described as Osama Bin Laden's right-hand-man in Europe before he was deported from the UK to Jordan in 2013.

Erlich says he had 20 minutes to prepare. The interview was hastily arranged by another of Al Qaeda's top leaders. Erlich says Qatada wanted to talk about human rights violations by the Assad regime in Syria, and by the U.S.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District / Flickr

Lt. Col. James Fielder was in Afghanistan from October 2013 to December 2014. A senior intelligence officer and air intelligence advisor for the 438 Air Expeditionary Advisory Group, part of his job was to apply political science to real-life scenarios. 

"I used a political communication model. Understanding noise inside of communication is very important if you want to successfully transmit a message to a sender to a receiver and back. And part of noise can be cultural, language differences, time differences."

John Pemble / IPR

Think for a moment about the person with whom you share the least in common, when it comes to your beliefs. Now, imagine having coffee with that person, not just once, but many times over a period of two years.

John Pemble

On this News Buzz edition of River to River, political opposites, conservative Christian activist Bob Vander Plaats of The Family Leader and Donna Red Wing of One Iowa, share their views on the 2016 presidential race.

JD Lasica, / Flickr

It is widely reported that there are three Democratic presidential candidates vying for the party's nomination, but there is another Democratic candidate many Iowans have never heard of. His name is Lawrence Lessig, and he is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.

courtesy of Katie Kovacovich / Luther College Active Minds

Early in high school, Katie Kovacovich struggled with anxiety, depression, and self-harm. By her senior year, she had gone to counseling, talked with her parents, and felt prepared for the next step. She said the transition to campus for her first year at Luther College was relatively painless.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Republican congressional leaders and the White House reached a budget agreement earlier this week that would modestly increase spending over the next two years, cut some social programs, and raise the federal borrowing limit. The House passed the bill on a 266 to 167 vote late Wednesday and a Senate vote is expected soon to follow.

Many House and Senate Republicans contend that House Speaker John Boehner gave away too much in order to reach a deal, and there are critics of the fact that lawmakers met in private to discuss the agreement.