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

Andrew Fuller

Iowa State University Extension climatologist Elwynn Taylor says more than a hundred lightning-caused wildfires burning in Saskatchewan, Canada are giving Iowans some colorful-sky effects.

“Maybe the best thing to look at is the smoke that we’re seeing in the air, giving the sun that mid-day orange tint and the change in light characteristics,” he says. “The sunsets are red and the sunrise is redder than we would expect under normal conditions, typical of smoke in the air.”

Taylor isn’t, however, attributing the current rainy weather to the Canadian wildfires.

Chris Zerbes / Flickr

More than half of Iowa's adults favor legalizing fireworks, according to a poll by the Des Moines Register. Despite the majority, lawmakers failed to pass legislation that would legalize anything beyond sparklers during this year’s session.

Senator Jeff Danielson notes that drafted legislation stipulates some of the strongest local control of any bill he’s seen regarding fireworks.

“We allow possession, but the law says you can’t fire them off. I believe that it's time to change Iowa’s law in a limited, responsible way that allows both possession and use,” says Danielson.


A handful of new laws go into effect July 1 as a result of the 2015 legislative session. Among those that will be most noticeable for the general public – Iowans will be able to buy growlers full of craft beers brewed in Iowa anywhere that has a class "C" alcohol license. That includes grocery stores and gas stations, for example. 

Emily Woodbury

Humans have now had access to the sky for more than a century thanks to engineering and ingenuity, but the evolution of the human brain has not kept up with its creations.

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer chats with Minneapolis native and Doomtree member Dessa. 

Have a listen to Dessa's thought provoking hip hop below. 

This morning the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right in all 50 states.

The ruling comes on the heels of one of the fastest changes in public opinion in U.S. history. Author Tom Witosky, author of Equal Before the Law, says it’s been a quick sea change.

David Clarke / Flickr

Last week, the Pope released an encyclical asserting climate change is a moral issue. Father Bud Grant, Catholic priest and professor of environmental ethics at St. Ambrose University, says the message of the encyclical is one of interconnectedness.

"That word 'related' is one of the most frequently used words in the entire document. And that means that if we tug at the environmental thread, we tug at the economic thread and the spiritual thread. They're all wound up together in that seamless garment."

Wally Gobetz / Flickr

Will millions of Americans, including tens of thousands of Iowa, lose health insurance subsidies? Could same-sex marriage become legal in all 50 states?

By late this week or early next, the rulings on two blockbuster U.S. Supreme Court cases will be handed down. On this politics day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with political analysts Tim Hagle (University of Iowa) and Scott Peters (University of Northern Iowa) about the political fallout and significance of court's decisions.

A tragic shooting last week in Charleston, South Carolina at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church left nine people dead and added fuel to conversations over racial relations in the U.S. After the incident, some historically black churches in Iowa are reviewing security plans and changing the way they think about greeting newcomers.

(National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey - NIPSV - from 2011)
darty28 / Flickr

On this River to River segment, Ben Kieffer hosts a discussion on stalking, harassment, and domestic abuse after the recent Coralville shooting of an employee of the Iowa Children's Museum in Coralville, as well as the recent murder-suicide involving an Urbandale couple, when the murdered woman did not want to press charges because she feared for her life.

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to release its decision that could invalidate health care insurance subsidies for low-income Americans under the Affordable Care Act, Iowa Senator Charles Senator Charles Grassley says Congress should be prepared to pass legislation temporarily continuing the subsidies.

“I expect the Court to rule against the President, but that’s not the fault of the low-income people getting the subsidy, so continue the subsidy. But don’t hurt the chances of making needed changes in ObamaCare including repeal and replacement.”

frankieleon / Flickr

The $10 bill, long inhabited by founding father Alexander Hamilton, will soon feature a woman. The decision will be made by the U.S. Treasury Secretary, who is asking the public for help in deciding which woman to include.

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer discusses the criteria for our nation’s currency and the historical significance of American bills with two historians, Thomas Schwartz, director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum in West Branch, and Larry Adams, curator at the Higgins Museum in Okoboji. 

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer chats with The Parish Festival about the trip back to their native Iowa. 

Download the podcast to hear their uniquely infectious music. 

Featuring lead vocalist Jamey Cummins from the Hot Club of Davenport, The Parish Festival was formed in 2005 in Davenport, IA. Making up the band are Andy Rappel, Sara Ulloa, Kurt Lammers, and Jim Foster.

Ben Kieffer / Iowa Public Radio

This summer at camps across Iowa, some kids are exploring the outdoors, some kids are crafting art projects, and some kids are designing hovercraft.

At the University of Iowa's Belin Blank Center, a group of preteens are working with Mark Ginsberg of M.C. Ginsberg Objects of Art to make working hovercrafts with Computer Aided Design and 3-D printing. Ginsberg says this is the first step towards the technology of the future.

Photo by Tom Jorgensen / University of Iowa

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Iowa-native, Ambassador Ron McMullen. He shares stories from his service in Burma, South Africa, Fiji, South Africa, and Eritrea. He also talks about the importance of keeping engaged with the world, something he hopes to impart on the University of Iowa students he teaches.

Wikimedia Commons

The Iowa Caucuses have remained the same over time, but the media coverage has not. Butch Ward, a Senior Faculty Member at the Poynter Institute, says that since the advent of social media, campaigns have had an easier time reaching the public. That it makes it both easier and harder for reporters.

“Reporting the message from a speech may not be as useful as asking ‘is this consistent with performance? Has this candidate flip flopped overtime?’ I think of that as a sense maker, somebody who introduced a certain sense of understanding and meaning,” Ward says.

Alan Light / Wikimedia Commons

A decision on whether or not same-sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states under federal law is expected from the U.S. Supreme Court soon. In order to get this issue before the nation’s highest courts, advocates have been working for decades to create a change in public opinion.

MIKI Yoshihito / flickr

What do snakes, turtles, zebra fish, and a program called CRISPR have in common? They are all involved in genomic research happening right here in Iowa.

The new Jurassic World movie is now in theaters, and there’s also recent controversial news that for the first time, Chinese scientists have edited DNA in human embryos.

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer chats with longtime Iowa musician Raldo Schneider. 

Download the podcast to listen to Raldo's distinctive country-folk. 

John Bollwitt

Traditional, big American breweries are in the midst of a global identity crisis. Meanwhile, craft beer microbreweries in the U.S. are flourishing like never before.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Economics teachers across the country use blackboards and chalk to teach people about supply and demand. The Planet Money team hands out candy to seventh graders.

Planet Money, a twice weekly podcast from NPR, sprung from an episode of This American Life that explained the subprime mortgage crisis. For the past six years, they’ve covered everything from the history of light to toxic assets, all to make the economy and finance more understandable to the average person.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer talks with world-renowned acoustic blues artist Catfish Keith. 

Download the podcast to listen to foot-stomping tracks off his new album, "Honey Hole."

Sam 17 / Flickr

Freda Sojka, CEO of Soothing Solutions, created Bug Soother in the wake of the 2008 floods, when gnats were bothering her five-month-old grandson. She had no idea that less than a decade later it'd be distributed throughout the world.

"If I'd known all that at the beginning, I might have named it differently. We're pretty stuck with the name now," she said with a laugh.

This Spring, Bug Soother launched in the UK. And Sojka is looking at other countries to introduce Bug Soother to; Panama is next on the list.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King says the government’s top priorities in the ongoing avian flu outbreak are safe clean-up of infected sites and indemnity payments for affected farmers. But right behind those, he says, is a need to better understand what has happened.

"The next thing that is important in that list of priorities is to complete the epidemiology study, which is the study on how did this disease get here in the first place and how did it spread after it got here?"

Thomas Bresson / Wikimedia Commons

Late last month, the White House released a strategy to try to protect pollinators, aiming to grow bee populations across the country in the next 10 years. As a part of that plan, there’s been talk of limiting pesticide use and developing products to help beekeepers combat the varroa mite.

Brookings Institute / Flickr

When Democratic Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders declared his candidacy, Hillary Clinton gained some competition. Sanders, who had only 8% support from Democrats in an April Quinnipiac poll, is now polling at 15%. 

While some believe Sanders' run may be harmful to Clinton's campaign, Dennis Goldford, Professor of Political Science and the Flansburg Fellow for The Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement at Drake University, says the move could bode well for her.

courteney / flickr

Last month, a former Iowa high school athlete, who is now in a wheelchair, received nearly a million dollars in a football concussion case. It’s the first damage award of it’s kind in the state.

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer finds out what questions the growing attention on concussions has raised about the future of football. Can school districts afford potential lawsuits? What can be done to make the sport safer for players?

woodleywonderworks / Flickr

According to the National Institute for Early Education, Iowa ranks 32nd in the nation for state spending on preschool.

Mark Shriver, President of the Save the Children Action Network, is working to try to change that. “Ninety percent of brain growth happens before the age of 5, but public investment is flat until that age. We spend billions of dollars trying to remediate. These kids are not entering kindergarten ready to learn,” he says.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer catches up with singer songwriter Ben Schmidt. 

Download the podcast to hear some tracks from Ben's upcoming projects. 

Health and Human Services Department, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging / Wikipedia Commons

How many hours of sleep do you think you need a night? New research shows that you may want to err on the side of more, not less. Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley have found that high amounts of the chemical amyloid are linked with disrupted sleep patterns.