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

For the first time in 20 years, Republicans held majorities in the Iowa House, Iowa Senate, with a Republican in the governor’s office.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer hosts a discussion on what was accomplished this legislative session with panelists: Kathie Obradovich of the Des Moines Register, James Lynch of The Gazette, Barbara Rodriguez of the AP, and Iowa Public Radio statehouse correspondent, Joyce Russell.

John Pemble / IPR

The launching of U.S. cruise missiles at Syrian air bases drew praise from U.S. Senator Joni Ernst at a constituent meeting in Elkader. But, should President Trump want to take further action, the message was clear - he needs congressional approval. "Anything further, if there were further actions that would happen, the president needs to come to Congress and explain that," says Ernst.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

While President Trump has been touting the accomplishments of the first 90 days of his administration, two Iowa political scientists say the celebration may be premature. Hans Hassell is assistant professor of politics at Cornell College and Rachel Caufield is associate professor of political science at Drake University. Both say most action taken by Trump is in the form of executive orders.

The Java House stage in downtown Iowa City will be full of seasoned, top notch musicians this Friday, April 21, at 2 P.M. The Nic Arp Band, led by one of Iowa City's finest and most storied songwriters, will play tunes from throughout Nic's prolific writing career. 

Stop by Friday afternoon to catch this special performance from IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," with host Ben Kieffer. 

Iowa songwriting power-duo Society of Broken Souls— comprised of multi-instrumentalists Lauryn Shapter and Dennis James— shares vivid stories against lush musical backdrops on this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend." 

Download the free podcast above to hear the group's raw, fearless songs, as well as the story of their difficult-but-necessary decision to leave their day jobs behind and pursue music full time. IPR Studio One's Ben Kieffer hosts. 

John Pemble / IPR

According to Dr. David Soll, who is Carver Professor of Biological Science at the University of Iowa, there's renewed hope for scientists to find a so-called "magic bullet" when it comes to looking for a cure for cancer. In a study published last week, he's documented the process by which cancer cells join together to form a tumor in 3-D. He modeled the way melanoma cells come together. 

United Nations Photo / Flickr

President Donald Trump has called the United Nations "just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time," and he's calling for major UN budget cuts. The United Nations does much more than host meetings, and there are local organizations across the country meant to support and educate the public about its endeavors. 

During the second half of this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Iowa's United Nations Association executive director Andrea Cohen about the UN's role globally and locally to promote international cooperation and peace. 

John Pemble

Mandatory minimum sentences require felons to serve a predefined term for certain offenses, and a proposal being considered at the Iowa Statehouse would lower mandatory sentences for certain, non-violent drug crimes.

wellmark building
Tony Webster / flickr

This week, two of the four health insurers in the state that sell individual health insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act state health exchange, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and Aetna, have announced they will no longer offer those individual plans. 

The University of Iowa's Public Policy Center's Pete Damiano says that while the exchanges are only a small part of ACA as a whole, this leaves only two insurers, one of which only sells plans to Iowans living in Allamakee, Clayton, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek counties. 

Emily Woodbury

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget calls for big cuts in a wide array of domestic programs, including agencies that fund the arts, humanities, and public media - funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) would be eliminated under Trump’s proposal.

In this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer talks with Iowa Public Radio executive director Myrna Johnson to discuss what this might mean for the future of IPR and public media as a whole.

Former Ambassador Stephen Rapp served as United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice from 2009-2015. During his time in that role, he led a prosecution team to win the first convictions in history for sexual slavery and for the recruitment of child soldiers. 

Following possible sarin gas attacks in Syria earlier this week, he says a investigation is likely into Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. 

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. 

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.

Pages