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

Alan Light / Flickr

For many in the LGBT community, gay bars and clubs are safe harbors—spaces where they can take refuge from those who reject their identities, and be understood as who they truly are, surrounded by people who support them.

So when Omar Mateen murdered 49 people at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida, the setting threw the tragedy into even sharper relief.

Majicdolphin / Flickr

What happened in Flint, Michigan is only one of several high profile incidents of public health crises arising from drinking water contamination. In fact, according to Siddhartha Roy, who was part of the team that discovered high lead levels in Flint, “There are millions of lead pipes,” and “we have them in virtually every city in the U.S.”

Gage Skidmore

The U.S. House of Representatives erupted in shouting this week, after lawmakers held a moment of silence for the victims of the Orlando mass shooting, and Democrats protested the Republican-led chamber’s refusal to consider tighter gun regulations.

John Pemble

With the sun setting on a primary season full of surprises, Iowans can expect more of the unexpected as the nominees head towards the party conventions.

On this special edition of River to River, co-hosts Ben Kieffer of Iowa Public Radio and Jennifer Hemmingsen of The Gazette sit down in front of a live audience in Cedar Rapids with The Gazette’s investigative reporter James Lynch, and columnists Lynda Waddington and Todd Dorman.

They give their thoughts on Iowa races as well as the race for the White House. Below are some highlights from the discussion.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer does his best pirate impression with Nashville pirate singer Tom Mason.

Listen in to hear Mason's sea-worthy tunes and lots of piratey banter. 

John Pemble

This week, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made headlines after her victory in California led many to declare her the first female nominee of a major party for president.

On this politics day edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer discusses the week’s political news with analysts Donna Hoffman of the University of Northern Iowa and Steffen Schmidt of Iowa State University. They talk about how the general election battle is shaping up after the last big day of primaries, as well as what’s next for each of the remaining candidates.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Many Republicans rebuked presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for his remarks suggesting that Latino and Muslim judges would be unable to rule fairly on a trial involving the candidate. State Senator David Johnson did them one better: he left the party.

Two baby eagles in Iowa town of Riverdale along the Mississippi have been removed from their nest to become part of a migration study. Two young eagles in Riverdale join a study to protect raptors from manmade hazards like wind turbines and power lines.

"Eagle populations have increased dramatically as of late, and increasingly eagles are moving away from large riparian corridors to interior portions of the state," says Drew Becker, fish and wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Rob McLennan / Flickr

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is expecting another summer boating season full of toxic, blue green algae blooms. There were a record number of beach closures in 2015 in Iowa, and the DNR is expecting this year to be the same or worse. 

The blooms release microcystin, which is a toxin released by cyanobacteria. The toxin can kill pets and cause rashes and flu like symptoms in humans.

As the weather heats up this week, Mary Skopec, beach monitoring coordinator for the Iowa DNR, says that we’ll likely start to see algal blooms that lead to beach closures.

HarperCollins Publishers

In 2009, 21 men were rescued from the abandoned Atalissa schoolhouse they inhabited since 1974. 

Their lives consisted of working for next to nothing at a turkey plant nearby in West Liberty, living together in the schoolhouse, and taking trips to the Atalissa Mini Mart.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer goes back to ska-llege with Quad Cities Ska group Fairhaven.

Listen in below to hear Kieffer chat with the group about their new split album and their upcoming national tour, as well as some raucus Ska numbers to get your energized. 

Michael Vadon / Flickr

At a press conference yesterday,  ABC News’ Tom Llamas pressed Donald Trump for details on a discrepancy between charitable donations to veterans' groups he had claimed at a January rally in Iowa and actual records of those donations on the books. 

"Mister Trump, writing a million dollar check is incredibly generous, but that night of the Iowa fundraiser you said you had raised six million dollars," he said. "Clearly you had not. Your critics say you tend to exaggerate, you have a problem with the truth--is this a prime example?

Lou Gold / Flickr

A bill eliminating the terms 'Oriental' and 'Negro' from federal documents sailed through Congress with bipartisan support and was signed by President Obama last week. Now, official documents will use the words 'Asian American' and 'African American.' Mae Ngai, Lung Professor of Asian American studies and professor of history at Columbia University, says the move is long overdue.

"It's a welcome change. It's symbolic, of course, but nobody wants to be insulted, even if it's symbolically."

Wikimedia Commons

With businessman Donald Trump the apparent GOP nominee for President of the United States, Americans are anxiously awaiting what comes next.

Michael Lind, fellow at New America, author of Land of Thomas: An Economic History of the United States and columnist for Salon and contributing editor to Politico has called the 2016 election cycle an “earthquake.”

"The big news in this election is the policy realignment. There’s been a gap between the existing coalitions, and their party platforms," says Lind.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Senator Chuck Grassley's refusal to hold a hearing for President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, has changed the landscape for Grassley's reelection campaign this fall. On June 7th Iowans will choose from among four candidates to determine which Democrat will face Grassley in the general election. 

Patty Judge is a former lieutenant governor, former secretary of agriculture for Iowa, and former state legislator. Judge spoke to Ben Kieffer on River to River.  Below is a transcript of the conversation, edited for clarity.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

The world’s three largest seed companies are in talks about possible mergers. That could result in a broader definition of what it means to be an agricultural business and would create a new landscape for farmers buying seeds, fertilizer, and even machinery.

"They’re selling the seed, the chemicals, the fertilizer," says Chad Hart, Extension economist and associate professor at Iowa State University. "We may even see some combination where we see some ag machinery companies merging with some seed companies or some fertilizer companies."

Public Domain / Wikimedia

The Japanese surrender in WWII was official with the signing of the Instrument of Surrender on September 2, 1945. But for Jerry Yellin, the war ended with his last combat mission on August 14th, the same day his wing man, 19-year-old Phil Schlamberg from Brooklyn New York disappeared over Japan.

Yellin, who now lives in Fairfield was a Captain in the Army Air Corps and a fighter pilot who flew a P-51. He says he was never wounded and claims he never thought he would die, but he's still haunted by the deaths of every one of the 16 men lost from his squadron of 32. 

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Iowa City-based tenor saxophonist and composer Jeff Miguel unveils the latest installment of his group, the Jeff Miguel Quartet. 

Lend an ear to the podcast below to hear Java Blend host Ben Kieffer chat with Miguel, as he plays tunes off his debut record, Perseverance. 

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

When U.S. Sen Chuck Grassley decided not to schedule confirmation hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, the Democratic primary contest for Iowa's U.S. Senate seat became one to watch. Before the vote on June 7th, we’re airing interviews with all four candidates on that ballot. 

Rob Hogg is an attorney and state senator; he’s been serving at the Iowa statehouse since 2003.  On Monday, he spoke with IPR’s Ben Kieffer on River to River and began by distinguishing his fundraising from his opponents.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Last Saturday at the Iowa Republican Convention, Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann enthused that support was building for Trump.

“Every time I speak, I’m seeing more and more and more unity. Which means, bottom line is, we’re going to really, for all practical purposes, be able to start the Hillary vs. Trump contest long before we actually go into Cleveland.”


Now that the election is well underway, it's prime season for the campaigns to consider their vice president picks. According to presidential historian Tim Walch, there are three things campaigns look for in a candidate.

Temperament – "You don’t want somebody who is going to blow up or be difficult with the president," he says. "They have to keep in mind that they are there to assist the president."

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Senator Chuck Grassley, the longest serving member of Iowa’s congressional delegation, is up for reelection this November.  Four Democrats are running to be the party nominee to challenge him in November – and they face off in a primary election June 7th.   The Democratic race heated up a few months ago, after Grassley refused to hold a confirmation hearing for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.  This week, we’re publishing interviews from all four Democrats on the primary ballot.  

courtesy of Paul Schaefer

 Four Democrats are on the June 7th primary ballot for the U-S Senate seat currently held by Republican Chuck Grassley.  He is the longest serving member of Iowa’s congressional delegation.  Grassley’s decision not to schedule confirmation hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee has attracted more attention to the Democratic primary contest.  This week and next, we’re airing interviews from all four candidates on that ballot. 

Pat Blank/IPR

This week, University of Northern Iowa President William Ruud announced that he will be leaving UNI this summer to become president of Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio.

On this news buzz edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer sits down with Ruud to find out why he is leaving Iowa, just three years after he interviewed for the position, when he implied that this would be his last job. 

"The opportunity to go to Marietta College is a great opportunity for me at this point in time in my career," says Ruud. 

Perspecsys Photos /

After high-profile hacks in the private sector and an embarrassing theft of information from government personnel files, President Barack Obama set up a commission on enhancing national cybersecurity. The commission is due to make its long term recommendations by early December on tightening cybersecurity in the private sector and in the government. It's part of Obama's $19 billion proposal to boost defenses against hackers. 

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

This week, NASA announced that the Kepler spacecraft mission has discovered 1,284 more planets in addition to what it's already discovered. This brings Kepler's total to more than 2,000 planets discovered in a narrow patch of the sky that's "about the size of your fist, if you hold your fist up to the sky," says Iowa State University astronomer Steve Kawaler.

Mike Mozart / Flickr

With the lawsuits between North Carolina and the Department of Justice and widespread boycotts of establishments like Target for their inclusive bathroom policies, transgender rights have been dominating the news cycle. In the middle of the politics and punditry, it's easy to lose sight of what being transgender actually means. Jay Irwin, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, says language is a good place to start.

Randy Bayne / Flickr

In a speech after his victory in the West Virginia primary Tuesday, Bernie Sanders made a nod towards unity in his party. 

"Our message to the Democratic delegates who will be assembling in Philadelphia is while we may have many disagreements with Secretary Clinton, there is one area we agree, and that is we must defeat Donald Trump."

BBC World Service

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer talks with José Orduña, author of The Weight of Shadows: A Memoir of Immigration and Displacement. In his book, Orduña tells his family's story of emigrating from Mexico and reflects on the process of becoming a North American citizen in a post-9/11 United States.

Orduña says that even after becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, he still has feelings on injustice and anger towards the system.

Rick Friday

Rick Friday had been drawing editorial cartoons for Farm News for more than two decades, that was until last week when a cartoon criticizing Monsanto, Dupont Pioneer and John Deere cost him his job.

He drew a farmer lamenting to another farmer the downturn in the commodity prices. Friday was as surprised as anyone that the cartoon then cost him his job, especially given that it had gone though the editor of the paper before being printed.