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

Clay Masters

Sunday in New Hampshire Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laid out her plan to combat climate change, calling for a sharp increase in the use of renewable energy.

"First, we need to have more than half a billion solar panels installed across the country by the end of my first term," says Clinton. "Second, we'll set a ten year goal of generating enough renewable energy to power every single home in America."

While her proposal drew praise, it also received some criticism due to things left out, including Keystone XL, fracking, and Arctic oil.

Wikimedia Commons

It’s been 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities act was signed into law. The bill’s chief sponsor, Fmr. Senator Tom Harkin, says that the legislation has done quite a lot in the last two and a half decades, including adding curb cuts to all sidewalks and spurring a flurry of technological innovation to accommodate workers with disabilities.

“Before the ADA, if you had a disability, that’s how you were defined, and you weren’t given an opportunity to show what else you were capable of doing,” Harkin says.

Dan DeLuca / Flickr

Iowa has the highest rate of worker fatalities and injuries in the Midwest.

Kathy Leinenkugel, of the Iowa Department of Public Health, says this is due to several factors, including the fact that Iowa has an aging workforce where many people are self-employed.

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer catches up with Chicago based singer-songwriter Dick Prall. 

Listen in below to the interesting tales Prall weaves with song. 

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer talks with Iowa's own country artist Chad Elliot. 

Listen to the hour long podcast for tracks off his album So Sang the Crow. 

Penguin Random House

Dr. David Casarett was a skeptic when he set out to write Stoned. But in his quest to determine what medical evidence exists for medical marijuana, the palliative care physician found more questions than answers. Host Ben Kieffer talks with him about the book and the research needed to answer those questions.

Casarett and listeners tell stories of how cannabidiol oil has helped children with seizure disorders.  He explains what science knows about the compounds found in cannabis, and the most effective means of extracting and administering those compounds. 

Lindsey Moon / Iowa Public Radio

On this edition of River to River - a listen back to some of the talk show team's favorite News Buzz conversations. Host Ben Kieffer jumps into the pool to find out how the butterfly stroke was invented in Iowa, and he talks with an anthropologist to answer the question of why humans have chins.

US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan / Flickr

For nearly four decades, Ryan Crocker served as ambassador in nearly all the Middle East countries where conflict was present, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

On this edition of River to River, Ambassador Crocker shares his perspective on the Iranian nuclear deal with host Ben Kieffer.

“It could reshape the nuclear scene globally for some time to come,” Crocker says. “That said, no one should think we are moving on to a sun dappled upland in the Middle East.”

Howard Jefferson / Flickr

At an evening camp event in 2010, two teenage boys drowned at the Pella Aquatics Center. Their families filed a claim for negligence against the City of Pella, arguing that the deaths could have been prevented by adequate underwater lighting.

"The lights in the swimming pool apparently were not on that night," says Todd Pettys, of the University of Iowa College of Law. "You couldn't see down to the bottom of the pool."

Nearly five years after the incident, the Iowa Supreme Court considered the question: Are cities liable when employees of city-inspected pools are careless?

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer talks with Manchester, Iowa native Susan Werner, whose widely varied musical style is steeped in all things Iowa. 

Listen in below for tracks off her album Hayseed. 

Kamyar Adl / Flickr

The age of 65 was a milestone that many workers used to look forward to—the promise of retirement, leisure time, and a guaranteed pension.   But the last couple of decades have brought change: most companies don’t provide pensions, employees must make their own investment choices concerning their 401K (if they are lucky enough to even have one), and simply dropping out of the work force at 65 isn’t an option.

West Midlands Police / Flickr

The Burlington Community School district is among the first in the nation to outfit administrators at each of the district's eight school buildings with body cameras. The district is already outfitted with fixed cameras, which Superintendent Pat Coen says have proven useful.

Amanda Tipton / Flickr

The opportunity for prosperity and success in America is in crisis, according to public policy expert Robert Putnam.

"Less able kids from rich backgrounds are more likely to graduate from college than the most able poor kids, and that directly violates the idea of meritocracy." says Putnam.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Vermont State Senator Bernie Sanders is quickly gaining popularity in the polls in his race for the democratic nomination for President, and his rise is definitely unexpected. That's according to Drake University Professor and Harkin Institute Flansburg Fellow Dennis Goldford. 

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend,"  join host Ben Kieffer as he catches up with Davenport's versatile jam band Firesale. 

Listen to their unique blend of ska, funk and rock below. 

David Scrivner / Iowa City Press-Citizen

Iowa’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Democrats in Iowa are calling for an increase, and in Washington, Democratic lawmakers would like to see the federal minimum wage raised to $12 by 2020.

On this edition of River to River we kick off our summer jobs series, Iowa At Work, by talking with Iowans trying to make ends meet on low wages.

Photo by Lynn Betts, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

It’s been a year since Logan Blake was washed into a storm sewer in Cedar Rapids and drown. 

“Logan was playing Frisbee on a playground. This inlet was right by a jogging path. The Frisbee went down into the brush next to the inlet and reached down to grab it, and it had a pretty steep bank. He got swept away, and that was the last anybody saw him alive," his father, Mark Blake says. 

A new study by the Institute of Medicine suggests that cardiac arrest could be the third leading cause of death in the United States.

More than 600,000 people go into cardiac arrest each year outside of hospitals, and fewer than 6 percent of those survive. Dr. Dianne Atkins, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics who worked on the report, says it’s important to distinguish cardiac arrest from a heart attack.

Andrew Fuller

Iowa State University Extension climatologist Elwynn Taylor says more than a hundred lightning-caused wildfires burning in Saskatchewan, Canada are giving Iowans some colorful-sky effects.

“Maybe the best thing to look at is the smoke that we’re seeing in the air, giving the sun that mid-day orange tint and the change in light characteristics,” he says. “The sunsets are red and the sunrise is redder than we would expect under normal conditions, typical of smoke in the air.”

Taylor isn’t, however, attributing the current rainy weather to the Canadian wildfires.

Chris Zerbes / Flickr

More than half of Iowa's adults favor legalizing fireworks, according to a poll by the Des Moines Register. Despite the majority, lawmakers failed to pass legislation that would legalize anything beyond sparklers during this year’s session.

Senator Jeff Danielson notes that drafted legislation stipulates some of the strongest local control of any bill he’s seen regarding fireworks.

“We allow possession, but the law says you can’t fire them off. I believe that it's time to change Iowa’s law in a limited, responsible way that allows both possession and use,” says Danielson.


A handful of new laws go into effect July 1 as a result of the 2015 legislative session. Among those that will be most noticeable for the general public – Iowans will be able to buy growlers full of craft beers brewed in Iowa anywhere that has a class "C" alcohol license. That includes grocery stores and gas stations, for example. 

Emily Woodbury

Humans have now had access to the sky for more than a century thanks to engineering and ingenuity, but the evolution of the human brain has not kept up with its creations.

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer chats with Minneapolis native and Doomtree member Dessa. 

Have a listen to Dessa's thought provoking hip hop below. 

This morning the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right in all 50 states.

The ruling comes on the heels of one of the fastest changes in public opinion in U.S. history. Author Tom Witosky, author of Equal Before the Law, says it’s been a quick sea change.

David Clarke / Flickr

Last week, the Pope released an encyclical asserting climate change is a moral issue. Father Bud Grant, Catholic priest and professor of environmental ethics at St. Ambrose University, says the message of the encyclical is one of interconnectedness.

"That word 'related' is one of the most frequently used words in the entire document. And that means that if we tug at the environmental thread, we tug at the economic thread and the spiritual thread. They're all wound up together in that seamless garment."

Wally Gobetz / Flickr

Will millions of Americans, including tens of thousands of Iowa, lose health insurance subsidies? Could same-sex marriage become legal in all 50 states?

By late this week or early next, the rulings on two blockbuster U.S. Supreme Court cases will be handed down. On this politics day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with political analysts Tim Hagle (University of Iowa) and Scott Peters (University of Northern Iowa) about the political fallout and significance of court's decisions.

A tragic shooting last week in Charleston, South Carolina at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church left nine people dead and added fuel to conversations over racial relations in the U.S. After the incident, some historically black churches in Iowa are reviewing security plans and changing the way they think about greeting newcomers.

(National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey - NIPSV - from 2011)
darty28 / Flickr

On this River to River segment, Ben Kieffer hosts a discussion on stalking, harassment, and domestic abuse after the recent Coralville shooting of an employee of the Iowa Children's Museum in Coralville, as well as the recent murder-suicide involving an Urbandale couple, when the murdered woman did not want to press charges because she feared for her life.

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to release its decision that could invalidate health care insurance subsidies for low-income Americans under the Affordable Care Act, Iowa Senator Charles Senator Charles Grassley says Congress should be prepared to pass legislation temporarily continuing the subsidies.

“I expect the Court to rule against the President, but that’s not the fault of the low-income people getting the subsidy, so continue the subsidy. But don’t hurt the chances of making needed changes in ObamaCare including repeal and replacement.”

frankieleon / Flickr

The $10 bill, long inhabited by founding father Alexander Hamilton, will soon feature a woman. The decision will be made by the U.S. Treasury Secretary, who is asking the public for help in deciding which woman to include.

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer discusses the criteria for our nation’s currency and the historical significance of American bills with two historians, Thomas Schwartz, director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum in West Branch, and Larry Adams, curator at the Higgins Museum in Okoboji.