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/IPR

Lawmakers wrapped up the 2016 legislative session at the Statehouse on Friday, April 29. While the House and the Senate reached a deal on the budget which included tax credits for couples who adopt instead of defunding Planned Parenthood, they did not compromise on bills that would have expanded access to medical marijuana or funded new water quality initiatives in the state. 

Michael Coghlan from Adelaide, Australia / Wikimedia Commons

Supporters of a sentencing reform bill approved by the Iowa legislature this session call it a "step in the right direction," despite the fact that there is bipartisan agreement that more steps are needed to address racial disparities in Iowa's criminal justice system.

The bill is awaiting Governor Terry Branstad's signature.

Ben Kieffer / Iowa Public Radio

    

When Donald Trump made the comment that Hillary Clinton's only card was "the woman card," Clinton took up the mantle.

"If fighting for women's healthcare and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in."

Two Iowan siblings took it a bit more literally. Zach and Zebby Wahls are creating a deck of playing cards celebrating prominent women in American history. They launched a Kickstarter yesterday afternoon in the hopes of gaining $5,000 in 30 days.

It took three and a half hours.

Joyce Russell/IPR

An expansion of Iowa’s medical cannabis law was defeated this week in the Iowa House, leading to an emotional reaction from affected families.

"I'm disappointed," says Sally Gaer. "I feel misled by the members of the House. We've been working on this for months, and what they did [Monday] night shows they have no conscience - pure and simple. They decided not to help Iowans most vulnerable because they, quite frankly, don't care."

Wellcome Images

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer and producer Emily Woodbury talk with medical providers about how different medical robots work, as well as the pros and cons of working side-by-side with machines to provide patient care.

Robots at the bedside: Telemedicine and the stroke robot

Ben Kieffer

Since 1967, over 1,400 writers from more than 140 countries have taken part in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, often referred to as the “United Nations of writers.”

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with several of this year’s writers who attended a welcome party in Iowa City earlier this week. They share poetry, their hopes for their time in the Midwest, and the struggles and inspiration they have brought with them from their home countries.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer catches up with singer-songwriter Bob Hillman after his decade-long break from music. 

Listen to the podcast below to hear tracks from Hillman's new album, "Lost Soul," as well as several of his old hits. 

In his new book American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good, Colin Woodard explores our relationship with our sense of individuality and our need for community.

He says the gridlock in our current political system highlights the tension.

Jens Alfke

What makes a crime infamous in the eyes of the law? That's a question currently being considered by the Iowa Supreme Court as the justices make a decision that could impact about 57,000 felons in Iowa who are currently banned from voting. 

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks about the Griffin v. Pate case with law expert Tony Gaughan of Drake University, Jamie Ross, a rehabilitated felon from Norwalk, and Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Iowa City Latin-jazz group Ritmocano brings infectious grooves and soaring solos to the stage in The Java House. 

Lend an ear below for some insight into the group's songwriting process and Latin influences, as well as some original tracks. 

Ryan Harvey / Flickr

Iowa is one of only a handful of states where it isn't legal to cash out an online fantasy sports bet. That could change this legislative session. Rep. Jake Highfill, a Republican from Johnston, introduced legislation that would legalize cash prizes for participating in the games online. Rep. Guy Vander Linden of Oskaloosa, says that type of gaming needs regulation.

Amy Mayer

In 2015, an outbreak of avian flu led to the depopulation of 50 million birds across Iowa and the Midwest. During the height of the outbreak last summer, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration halted egg inspections to try to curb the spread of the virus.

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig says that the state halted inspections after the FDA announced they would do the same.

Remi Itani / International Organization for Migration / Flickr

More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, fleeing war, poverty, and ecological disaster. The influx has sparked a crisis, as European counties struggle to cope with the human flood. It's also creating division in the European Union over how best to deal with resettling people. 

Senator Chuck Grassley is caught in the middle of the controversy over whether or not to hold hearings on D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Jim McCormick, political science professor at Iowa State University says that the move to block hearings on the nomination is “odd.”

From tomorrow on, the previously state-run Medicaid system will be managed by private companies called "managed care organizations," or MCOs. In the lead-up to the switch, many of those who benefit from Medicaid have struggled with getting information about coverage, payment, and benefits.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer chats with local acoustic-rockabilly group Cedar County Cobras. 

Check out the podcast below to hear about the group's familial ties, as well of some tracks off their new record, "Delta Ave Juke Joint."

dagnyg / Flickr

Johnston father of three, Nathan Gibson, would like to take his daughters to fire handguns at a shooting range, but under state law they can't handle pistols until the age of fourteen.

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Gibson and one of Gibson's daughters about their effort to eliminate the handgun use age limit. 

Pete Zarria / Flickr

Last weekend in Cedar Rapids, two people died of gunshot wounds in separate incidents. Community leaders gathered for a press conference Monday to discuss possible solutions. Among them was Dedric Doolin, Cedar Rapids Branch President of the NAACP and Director of the Area Substance Abuse Council. He says the problem of gun violence isn’t new and neither are attempts to solve it—from law enforcement, individuals, religious organizations, and non-profits.

Payton Chung, Flickr / Wikimedia Commons

When filmmaker Ronit Bezalel first arrived in Chicago as a film student in 1994, all she knew about Cabrini Green was its reputation. "I could see Cabrini from the windows of the 'L,' and people told me to avoid it at all costs. I wanted to know why I couldn't go there."

Pipeline developer Dakota Access, the subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer partners has been granted eminent domain powers by the Iowa Utilities Board in order to build the Bakken pipeline, an interstate crude oil pipeline that would cut diagonally across the state for 343 miles. It’s the first interstate pipeline that could be built in the state in 15 years.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Ben Kieffer hosts Iowa City bluegrass group Flash in a Pan and their high-octane, witty brand of music. 

Check out the podcast below for some pick-me-up tracks from the outfit's new record, Antidote to Sell, and some stories from the band's time on the road. 

Photo Courtesy of Rita Dvorak

In 2015, Iowa had a record number of beach closures due to blue green algae blooms. That, in addition to a lawsuit filed against three northwestern Iowa counties, is bringing increased attention to water quality in the state.

Ben Kieffer

The shooting in Ferguson, Missouri and the unrest that followed sparked a vigorous debate in the country about the role of law enforcement.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer and producer Emily Woodbury visit the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) at Camp Dodge in Johnston to find out how training is changing due to the national debate over the role of law enforcement.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Iowa blues fixture Matt Woods wows a packed Java House with his versatile guitar work and powerful vocals. 

Listen in below to hear host Ben Kieffer chat with Woods about his impressive day job and the genesis of his latest release, "Sawdust and Gasoline."

University of Iowa student Emily Roberts met a 19 year old who lives in Afghanistan online, through a language learning exchange. The two became fast friends. 

"Sultana and I were talking and I was asking her questions so she could practice her English. I asked her what her perfect day was," Roberts says. "She said, 'well, I would wake up in the morning and study physics all day.' I thought that sounded like a terrible day, but that's when I knew I had to try to get her here." 

Herry Lawford / Flickr

Dr. Stephen Nelson first became aware of the LGBT healthcare disparity through another boundary that frequently occurs between doctor and patients--race. The director of the Sickle Cell Clinic at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, he found his patients shared a common thread.

Julie Falk / Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders dished out humble pie to pollsters this week, when he claimed victory in Michigan, after no poll showed him leading, or even closing the gap with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Polls showed Clinton leading in the state by double digits in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Iowa State University Political Science Professor Jim McCormick says, as in most elections, it boiled down to economics in a state hit hard by the recession, with companies moving overseas and the challenges facing the automotive industry.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Cedar Falls native and Twin Cities transplant Ben Cook-Feltz catches up with host Ben Kieffer about turning 30, getting married, and more. 

Listen in below to hear all this plus tracks from Cook-Feltz new album, "She Doesn't Believe Me." 

Kari Nousiainen / Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode

On Sunday morning, August 16th, three days after his 41st birthday, Wade Franck was hit by a drunk driver while riding in the Urban Assault Ride in Des Moines. His girlfriend, Jess Rundlett was behind him as the car approached, going very fast.

"It nearly hit me. I remember feeling the mirror whiz by my elbow, and by the time I thought to yell to Wade a warning, he had already been hit and was flying through the air," Rundlett says. "He was hit so hard that his shoes were knocked off and he flew about 30 feet."

Wade Franck died two days later.

NASA HQ PHOTO / Flickr

A federal appellate judge here in Iowa is a potential nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

On this news buzz edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Tony Gaughan and Dennis Goldford of Drake University about the interest in Judge Jane Kelly, and also why Iowa's Patty Judge is challenging Chuck Grassley for his Senate seat.

Also this hour, a check on the health of the Midwest economy, fascinating insights into the new global media ecosystem, and the first annual Pho King Cook-off in Des Moines.

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