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 Governor Terry Branstad unveiled a major initiative this week – a plan to increase funding for water quality. 

The governor teamed up with former Democratic governor and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to support a proposal that would extend the one-cent sales tax currently spent on school infrastructure. While the plan would extend the sales tax, most of the inflationary growth would be diverted to finance water quality projects. Critics say that money should go only to education infrastructure.

Tom McLaughlin / Flickr

From televangelists to raptor specialists, we said goodbye to several notable Iowans who significantly contributed to politics, art, education, sports, law, and other fields during 2015. This hour on River to River, we pay tribute to a few of those Iowans. Host Ben Kieffer talks with a variety of guests in memory. 

Frankieleon / Flickr

While Lucy and Ricky Ricardo were filmed sleeping in separate twin beds back in the 1950s, not sharing a mattress is seen as a sign of a troubled marriage.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with sleep doctor, Dr. Eric Dyken of the University of Iowa Sleep Disorders Center, fielding several questions about the benefits and drawbacks to sharing a room with a sleeping partner.

Photo Courtesy Daniel Moon

Twenty years ago in Iowa, the influx of latino workers and their families was a large topic of conversation. Today, refugee programs are working with more than 180 different languages and are helping migrants from all over the world navigate culture in Iowa, and starting to include ideas of sexual identity and socio-economic status in the conversation.

During this hour of River to River, we hear from Henny Ohr, Executive Director of the Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center, about the influx of refugees from Burma who have been relocating to Iowa.

Metal Chris / Flickr, Licensed under Creative Commons

Many decry the coarsening of our political discourse. History demonstrates that politics has always been a "contact sport." But over the years Iowa's social capital has allowed Iowans to disagree without being disagreeable.

Ben Kieffer

This edition of River to River kicks off Iowa Public Radio’s Iowa Week with the theme “then and now.”

Marc Nozell / Flickr

All eyes are on Iowa in advance of the February 1st precinct caucuses, but just eight days later, the first primary in the nation takes place in New Hampshire. Though the state experiences the same frenzy of candidate attention Iowa does, candidate appearances and electorate makeup differ.

One key difference? The importance of faith background on voting.

Joyce Russell/IPR file photo

Certainly, Iowa’s role in the 2016 presidential race has been one of the top news stories in our state this year. There are also many others - including the privatization of the state's Medicaid program. 

"This is coming from a guy who covers politics and is looking forward to the caucuses, but I would argue that this is the most important Iowa-specific story this year," explains Clay Masters, Iowa Public Radio Morning Edition host and political reporter. 

John Pemble

Since 1969, Iowa’s governors have averaged a decade in office each, significantly longer than governors of other states.

"Iowans, for a number of reasons, seem to like their governors as long as they are doing certain things," says Chris Larimer of the political science department at the University of Northern Iowa. “Accessibility and visibility – there is an expectation among Iowans that you need to be out there on a regular basis.” 

Iowa Public Radio

This week, federal administrators ordered Iowa to wait at least 60 days before shifting its Medicaid program to private management. On this News Buzz edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer asks Brian Kaskie, associate professor of health management and policy at the University of Iowa, four questions about the order.

Was this expected?

courtesy of H.S. Udaykumar

In much of the developing world, fossil fuels and electricity are too expensive to be legitimate options for cooking. Instead, people there use wood burning stoves that create environmental impacts of their own, chief among them desertification of the forests that supply the wood, and soot released when the wood fails to burn completely.

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Riggans

The last time the Hawkeyes went to the Rose Bowl, Hayden Fry was coach and Seinfeld was debuting on NBC. Bruce Kittle was co-captain of Hayden Fry's first Rose Bowl team back in 1981-1982, and he says that the enthusiasm from fans, and pre-season notions about the team, are very similar.  

Courtesy of Jeff Riggan

The unsung heroes of Hawkeye football might be a father son duo who drive the hawks’ gear around the country on their own dime. Mike Riggan started driving an 18 wheeler painted in black and gold, dubbed the Hawkeye Hauler, with his friend Ed Huff in 1983 and now drives it with his son, Jeff. 

"We bleed black and gold," says Mike. "Iowa is the only team in the Big 10 that operates like this, with someone volunteering their time." 

DonkeyHotey / flickr

With less than seven weeks until the Iowa caucuses, the nation is relying on Iowa polls for a best guess as to who will emerge a winner.

On this politics day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with one of the nation’s top pollsters, J. Ann Selzer, whose latest poll shows Senator Ted Cruz jumping 21 percentage points among likely GOP caucus-goers.

Amy Mayer/IPR

The president of Iowa’s Board of Regents is predicting policy changes that will further limit the manner in which contracts are awarded by the three state universities. Bruce Rastetter's comments come after Iowa State University and the University of Iowa both awarded contracts to individuals with Republican ties without taking bids on the work. 

Rastetter says that the individuals getting the state work are capable and qualified, but without taking bids on the work, "the optics are not pretty." 

Rand Wilson / Flickr

The moderators for the second democratic debate had been preparing for weeks. But when they heard news of the terrorist attacks in Paris, Kathie Obradovich, political columnist for the Des Moines Register one of the debate’s moderators, says they ripped up the entire debate script and refocused it on national security, terrorism, and foreign policy.

"We didn't actually see a complete script 'til one hour before air time. One hour."

Christopher Gannon

Iowa State University students have designed what they call a 21st century outpost, a barracks design created to alleviate post-traumatic stress in soldiers. 

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer talks with ISU interior design professor Lee Cagley and graduate student Maricel Lloyd about the effectiveness and practicality of the designs. Iowa veteran Nathan Drake also joins the conversation.

John West / Wikimedia Commons

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie has returned to Iowa from Paris where he took part in the United Nations Convention on Climate Change as a representative for the U.N.'s Compact of Mayors.

He says in Des Moines, they’ve been trying to improve energy efficiency in city buildings since joining the effort.

Amy Mayer/IPR

The American Association of University Professors says its investigation of Iowa Board of Regents’ process in hiring University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld disserved the people of Iowa.

The AAUP, also a labor union, concludes the Board of Regents designed the presidential search process to prevent any meaningful faculty role in the process, acting in bad faith to other candidates. The report calls it an illusion of an honest search, manipulating to a pre-ordained result.

Theresa Thompson / Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Millennials are projected to surpass Baby Boomers as the largest living generation this year, according to the Pew Research Center. And as they're between the ages of 18 and 34, they'll be eligible to vote in the upcoming caucuses and 2016 election. So, what do these young voters care about?

On this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Iowa City's very own Burlington Street Bluegrass Band takes the stage at the Java House in downtown Iowa City with host Ben Kieffer. 

Listen in to hear some of the group's impressive playing, as well as some amusing insight into their 200 years of collective experience playing music. 

Rajesh Kumar / Flickr

The bulk collection of metadata from domestic phone calls by the National Security Agency in the U.S. has come to an end, but at the same time, France is stepping up its surveillance of citizens.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with two information technology experts from Iowa State University, Doug Jacobson and Brian Mennecke, to discuss the latest news regarding privacy, data collection, and cyber-security.

Christopher Gannon

Vincent is a 3-year-old domestic short-haired cat, and he has something that only a couple dozen animals in the world have - a certain type of titanium-alloy prosthetic hind legs.

Veterinary orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mary Sarah Bergh of Iowa State University worked with orthopedics company BioMedtrix to design implants to be inserted into the femur bones of Vincent’s legs and pass through his skin. She then attached Vincent’s prosthetic legs and has overseen his rehabilitation.

Bely Medved / Wikimedia Commons

Iowa Football hasn’t had an undefeated regular season since 1922… until now. Columnist Mike Hlas, who writes for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, says that the world of college football is drastically different today than it was then.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

The latest Quinnipiac University poll shows former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton widening her lead over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, but it also shows Sanders is polling well against Republican candidates. Iowa Public Radio River to River host Ben Kieffer talked with Sanders Wednesday by phone. Read a full transcription of the interview below. 

KIEFFER: The Paris attacks have put national security on everyone’s minds. How would national security under a Bernie Sanders administration be different than what we currently have, or under a Clinton administration?

The Weekly Bull / Flickr

As President Obama attends the Paris climate talks, Republican presidential hopefuls are making waves with their statements about global warming back home. Earlier this week, Jeb Bush said he might not have attended the climate talks if he was president. Most other GOP candidates are falling into one of two camps.

"One position is that there has not been global warming and that's one particular position," says Dennis Goldford, professor of political science at Drake University and Flansburg Fellow at the Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," North Carolina folk duo Lowland Hum stops by the Java House and talks with host Ben Kieffer about their extensive traveling and how it has influenced their music.

Listen in to hear tracks from the group's new self-titled album. 

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. 

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. 

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