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

USDA Photo by Bob Nichols

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Ambassador Darci Vetter, Drake University alumna and former Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the U.S. Trade, about how President Donald Trump’s new “America First” trade policy is likely to affect Iowa’s agriculture and other exports. 

Regarding the president's focus on renegotiating NAFTA, she thinks the trade agreement works fairly well and would like to see it updated, rather than dismantled.

Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

News that Steve Bannon, White House Chief Strategist, is being removed from the National Security Council is a signal the NSC is being transformed back to a more traditional structure, according to two Iowa political scientists.

During this hour of River to River, Jim McCormick and Wayne Moyer join host Ben Kieffer. 

"I see it as moving away from more of a populist approach to foreign policy and much more towards a traditional security approach to foreign policy," says Moyer, who is Rosenfield Professor of Political Science at Grinnell College.

Iowa City singer-songwriter Elizabeth Moen has it all: a killer voice, deft guitar chops, and catchy songs. In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," the soul-folk crooner showcases all three with host Ben Kieffer. 

Download the free podcast below to hear Moen's performance, as well as some wildly entertaining stories from her recent European tour and details from her upcoming full-length album. 

Distracted driving concerns everyone on the road – and it’s something lawmakers at the statehouse have maintained a focus on this legislative session.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with researchers at the National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS) at the University of Iowa. They discuss the latest observations they've made in regards to how cannabis use affects drivers, the impact of distraction or fatigue while driving, and the rise of automated technology on the road. 

CGehlen / Flickr

The nation is battling a heroin and painkiller abuse problem. While Iowa’s fight has been less severe than some other states around the US, according to the Department of Public Health, opioid related emergency room visits in Iowa have more than doubled in the last decade.

During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Lori Peter, who lost her son Kelly to a heroin overdose in 2015.

Rebecca Pollard / Flickr

According to a new study of more than 13,000 adolescents, Iowa State University psychology professor Doug Gentile, along with a team of French researchers, finds a link between video game exposure and sexism.

Phil Roeder

The U.S. Supreme Court has operated with eight instead of nine judges for over a year now since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, but that may change soon. Judge Neil Gorsuch could be confirmed to the High Court within a matter of days.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Tony Gaughan, professor of law at Drake University, and Todd Pettys, H. Blaire and Joan V. White Chair in Civil Litigation at the University of Iowa, about what to expect if that occurs.

Farhad Sadykov / Flickr

In Russia, even peaceful, one-person protests are illegal, and protestors are regularly detained under the country's harsh anti-demonstration laws. Yet, on Sunday, tens of thousands of Russians protested to show their anger at high-level corruption. 

University of Iowa sociology assistant professor Marina Zaloznaya says she's not surprised to see Russians organizing in the way they did over the weekend. 

Ben Kieffer

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Des Moines singer-songwriter Ryne Doughty joins host Ben Kieffer for an hour of authentic Midwest folk music played by some of Iowa's best musicians. 

Download the podcast below to hear Doughty— joined by Iowa blues legend Pat Hazell on harmonica and Des Moines percussionist Will Locker— play a set full of catchy, feel good tunes that won't leave your head for days. 

John Pemble

In all but four Iowa counties, employers must pay a minimum wage of $7.25/hour - the same as the federal minimum wage.

Recently, Johnson, Linn, Polk and Wapello Counties struck out on their own and passed resolutions to raise their minimum wage above that level. Now, the Iowa legislature is in the process of reigning in those counties by passing a GOP-led measure that would ban individual counties from deciding their own minimum wages.

Beth Jusino / Flickr

It’s not only drugs that can cause addiction. New research shows dependence on your smart phone may produce some of the same addictive brain responses. 

In this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks to Adam Alter, an associate professor of marketing at New York University and author of the new book IRRESISTIBLE: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.

According to Alter, the definition of the term “addiction” has expanded over the years to include not only substances, but behaviors as well.

Anna Williams / Iowa Public Radio

Just after 7:00 p.m. central time on Monday, a civil emergency alert went out to cell phone users in parts of Eastern and Central Iowa. That message went out by mistake. During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with John Benson, spokesperson for Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. 

Public Domain

President Trump's nominee to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court has faced questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Judge Neil Gorsuch has been asked about his view of the Constitution, legal precedent set forth in Roe v. Wade, and whether the president would be violating the law if he authorized torture for terrorists.

The nominee has declined to give many answers, saying he might have to rule on such matters in future cases. That has many questioning the purpose of the committee hearings.

The Iowa songwriting power duo of Society of Broken Souls— comprised of Lauryn Shapter and Dennis James— will grace IPR Studio One's "Java Blend" stage at The Java House in downtown Iowa City on Friday, March 24th. 

Swing by at 2 P.M. to listen to the group weave vivid stories with their lyrics while playing a wide range of sounds and instruments. Plus, hear the pair dive deep into their story-oriented approach to songwriting with Java Blend host Ben Kieffer. 

Library of Congress / Prints & Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection

Fifty years ago, on March 22, 1967, Central College in Pella hosted one of America’s most influential citizens: Martin Luther King Jr., who addressed an audience of 1300 in the college gymnasium. Just over a year later, King was assassinated.

To mark the anniversary, Central College has planned several events to honor King’s legacy and vision, as well as celebrate ways that Central participates in ongoing efforts toward social justice.

LenDog64 / Flickr

According to Iowa comedian, Colin Ryan, who moved to the Midwest from Ireland in 2010, the current-day traditions of St. Patrick's Day (parades, wearing green, drinking beer, etc.) were inspired by people living in the U.S., not those in Ireland.

He says that up until the 1970s, “It was actually a day of quiet religious reflection in a lot of ways. What happened was that the Irish immigrants in Boston used to have big parties, so the Irish people traveling over to America saw the parades and all the fun stuff that was happening and said, 'Hey let’s do that back in Ireland.'"

Wikimedia Commons

A new plan for health care in America, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which is currently being debated by Congress, would replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

According to the new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, this plan has the potential to make many changes to health care policies in America. While it reduces the federal deficit by $337 billion over 10 years, it's also estimated to leave 24 million Americans uninsured by 2026.

Pimke/Wikimedia Commons

Max Rodriguez Garcia was born in Amsterdam in 1924. He emigrated to the United States in 1948, only after being liberated from a concentration camp in Germany after World War II. During this segment, he talks with Ben Kieffer.

“My whole family was gassed,” he recalls. “I wound up at the main building, Auschwitz I.

Eric E Johnson / Flickr

The White House is trying to salvage support for the Republican plan to revise the Affordable Care Act, as a growing number of lawmakers weigh in against the proposal.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer hosts a conversation on the plan with political analysts, Wayne Moyer of Grinnell College and Jim McCormick of Iowa State University.

Sebastiaan ter Burg / Flickr

More than 30 states have enacted some form of a voter identification requirement in recent years, and Iowa could join that list, as a contentious voter ID bill continues to be discussed at the statehouse.

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer is joined by IPR statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell to host a conversation with lawmakers working on this proposal in Des Moines. They also talk with Indiana Public Broadcasting reporter, Brandon Smith, who describes the impact that similar voter ID legislation has had in Indiana over the last decade.

Caleb Housh

People in Seymour are working to convert a closed nursing home into temporary classrooms, after a tornado heavily damaged the local K-12 school on Monday.  Caleb Housh is the city’s mayor.

“I can’t tell you how many local contractors have been in there, getting this building ready to go. I believe today they’re ready to start painting rooms. Teachers have reached out to their students, and the students are going to come in and help paint the classrooms and get them ready to go."

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Cassandra Thompson

During the time Chuck Hagel served as U.S. Secretary of Defense, Russia invaded Ukraine and the Syrian Civil War was at its height.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Hagel about current threats at home and abroad - getting his views on cyber-security, President Donald Trump’s new so-called travel ban, Trump’s call for greater defense spending, as well as the future of the Republican party.

U.S. Army RDECOM / Flickr

Exhaustion, shock, panic, disease, extreme heat, and horrific noise -  these are some of the less talked about challenges of military combat.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with celebrated science writer Mary Roach about her new book, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. In it, she explores the aspects of war no one makes movies about - the quirky but essential science behind staying alive in combat.

A description of Grunt from the publisher, W. W. Morton & Company, Inc.:

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Celtic folk artist Keith Reins and renowned Celtic violinist Tara McGovern take listeners through the anatomy of various folk songs of the British Isles. 

The fascinating performance comes as part of Keith Rein's multi-platform project, "Folk Songs You Never Sang in Grade School," which combines thoughtful essays, thorough research and, of course, performance.  

Listen to the podcast below for an engaging hour of folk songs, history, and chat with Java Blend host Ben Kieffer. 

Hang out with Des Moines indie-psych-rock band The Fuss in this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend." 

Listen to the podcast below to hear about the up and coming band's origins, its subsequent rise through the burgeoning Des Moines DIY scene, and its sonically adventurous tunes. 

Paul Weaver / Flickr

Republican lawmaker Rep. Matt Windschitl of Missouri Valley is pushing comprehensive changes to Iowa's firearms law this year. 

Specifically, House Study Bill 133 seeks to add "stand your ground" provisions, institute lifetime permits to carry, allow children under 14 years of age to use handguns under adult supervision, and preempt local ordinances that restrict firearms use or declare themselves “gun-free zones."

Lindsey Moon / Iowa Public Radio

President Donald Trump’s first few weeks in office have been a whirlwind. The same can be said for the first few weeks of the Iowa Legislature’s 2017 session.

During this special edition of River to River, recorded before a live audience at the Mill in Iowa City, host Ben Kieffer talks with columnists Todd Dorman and Lynda Waddington of the Gazette, as well as political reporter James Lynch. 

Conversation topics include Russia's interference into the U.S. Election, the likelihood of an investigation, collective bargaining rights in Iowa and many others. 

The Homefires' Java Blend performance, scheduled for taping at The Java House in downtown Iowa City at 2 P.M. on Friday, February 24th, has been canceled due to bad weather. 

The next Java Blend live taping will be on March 10th with Iowa City's newest rising star, Elizabeth Moen, who will be fresh off a European tour. 

Stay tuned for make up dates for this event.

Photo by John Pemble

Iowa's U.S. senators are back in the state this week, drawing large, sometimes raucous crowds at town hall meetings. Attendance at Sen. Charles Grassley's gathering in Hancock county was reportedly more than 100. Sen. Joni Ernst drew a similar crowd at her event in Macquoketa.

Some Iowa attendees held signs supporting the Affordable Care Act and chanted "Do your job," and "Work for us." But do such protests make a difference to elected officials?

Mobilus In Mobili / Flickr

Just weeks after leaving the White House, President Barack Obama ranks as the 12th best president overall, according to a new poll of historians conducted by C-SPAN. It's the first time Obama is eligible for the Presidential Historians Survey, which asked 91 historians to rank all 43 former presidents across 10 categories. 

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