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

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President William Ruud has been president of the University of Northern Iowa since 2013. He's overseen projects he's proud of like efforts to curb sexual assault and One Is Too Many and a project to promote mental health. He still says the best part of the job is direct interaction with students.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Back in 2013, Joni Ernst was a little known state senator and a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard. Today, she’s the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress.

Ken Vogel, chief investigative reporter for Politico, published an article yesterday detailing how the Koch brothers and their political network helped launch Ernst’s campaign. He says Ernst was a “beta test” for the Kochs.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

In a night full of sound bites, one candidate's lack of substance may have helped him stand out in a crowded field of candidates. Ben Carson, one of the 'outsider' candidates, didn't go into much policy in the third Republican debate.  Donna Hoffman, associate professor of political science at University of Northern Iowa, says that didn't hurt him.

"He has this huge likability factor but he's not being very specific in terms of policy, and so far that's working for him."

That's viable for Carson now, but Hoffman's unsure of its endurance as a long-term strategy.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer catches up with Dickie, the newest musical project of Java Blend frequenter Dick Prall and classically trained violinist Kristina Priceman. 

Listen in below to hear some tracks off Dickie's self-titled debut album. 

Myfuture.com / Flickr

Iowa is facing a shortage of middle-skill workers, including those in the fields of nursing, welding, and manufacturing.

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer talks with people pushing for more technical and career training from the high school level onward, including Waterloo Community School District Superintendent Jane Lindaman and Dave Bunting, a longtime educator at Kirkwood Community College.

Francis Hannaway / Wikimedia Commons

In Iowa, it takes more time to get a license to practice cosmetology than it does to become an emergency medical technician. That's part of the reason why two Des Moines women are suing the state's Board of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences. Achan Agit is one of those women. 

Photo Courtesy of Johnny Case

Since the Ultimate Fighter debuted on mainstream television, watching Ultimate Fighting Championship fights has become increasingly popular across the country. Johnny Case, originally from Jefferson, will be taking part in Ultimate Fighting Championship Fight Night 77, to be held Saturday, November 7 in San Paulo Brazil.

Case says it was his background as a wrestler that led him to UFC fighting.

Tony Alter / Flickr

This week marks Paul Ryan's first week  as the new Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. On this politics day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with political experts Hans Hassell of Cornell College and Chris Larimer of the University of Northern Iowa. They share their predictions of how Ryan will fare in House leadership.

"You're going to end up with in-fighting among Republicans on how to proceed in the face of a veto threat from President Obama," says Hassell. "These structural differences and problems haven't gone away."

On this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," hear Dan Tedesco seamlessly meld Bob Dylan-esque lyrics with powerful guitar work straight from a Motorhead album. Join host Ben Kieffer as he chats with Tedesco about his contrasting influences and high-energy stage show. 

Listen to the podcast below to hear tracks from Tedesco's new self-titled album. 

Reese Erlich

There are interviews you spend hours sweating over, and then there are situations like the one faced by award-winning foreign correspondent Reese Erlich on a recent trip to Jordan. That's where he interviewed Abu Qatada, once described as Osama Bin Laden's right-hand-man in Europe before he was deported from the UK to Jordan in 2013.

Erlich says he had 20 minutes to prepare. The interview was hastily arranged by another of Al Qaeda's top leaders. Erlich says Qatada wanted to talk about human rights violations by the Assad regime in Syria, and by the U.S.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District / Flickr

Lt. Col. James Fielder was in Afghanistan from October 2013 to December 2014. A senior intelligence officer and air intelligence advisor for the 438 Air Expeditionary Advisory Group, part of his job was to apply political science to real-life scenarios. 

"I used a political communication model. Understanding noise inside of communication is very important if you want to successfully transmit a message to a sender to a receiver and back. And part of noise can be cultural, language differences, time differences."

John Pemble / IPR

Think for a moment about the person with whom you share the least in common, when it comes to your beliefs. Now, imagine having coffee with that person, not just once, but many times over a period of two years.

John Pemble

On this News Buzz edition of River to River, political opposites, conservative Christian activist Bob Vander Plaats of The Family Leader and Donna Red Wing of One Iowa, share their views on the 2016 presidential race.

JD Lasica, socialmedia.biz / Flickr

It is widely reported that there are three Democratic presidential candidates vying for the party's nomination, but there is another Democratic candidate many Iowans have never heard of. His name is Lawrence Lessig, and he is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.

courtesy of Katie Kovacovich / Luther College Active Minds

Early in high school, Katie Kovacovich struggled with anxiety, depression, and self-harm. By her senior year, she had gone to counseling, talked with her parents, and felt prepared for the next step. She said the transition to campus for her first year at Luther College was relatively painless.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Republican congressional leaders and the White House reached a budget agreement earlier this week that would modestly increase spending over the next two years, cut some social programs, and raise the federal borrowing limit. The House passed the bill on a 266 to 167 vote late Wednesday and a Senate vote is expected soon to follow.

Many House and Senate Republicans contend that House Speaker John Boehner gave away too much in order to reach a deal, and there are critics of the fact that lawmakers met in private to discuss the agreement.

On this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer explores the many musical facets of Dan DiMonte and the Bad Assettes. 

Listen in below to hear tracks off the group's latest studio effort, "The Runner, the Ends, and the Space Between." 

Emily Woodbury / Iowa Public Radio

Before the 1980s, we assumed that wrongful convictions were rare. Then came Peter Neufeld and the Innocence Project. Through DNA testing, Neufeld and his organization have helped to exonerate more than 300 people of crimes they were wrongfully convicted of committing.

“We thought we could look at old cases where people were tried on other evidence like eye-witness testimony and test the hypothesis of innocence,” he says.

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Denise Moore started using meth when she was 12 years old. She was arrested in her late 30’s, and nearly lost her children. Today, however, she’s sober and working to help other families recover from drug addiction.

David Scrivner / Iowa City Press-Citizen

A new Johnson County ordinance will raise the local minimum wage from $7.25 in $.95 increments, and this incremental rise will reach $10.10 by 2017. The first phase starts in a couple weeks, unless cities vote otherwise. The town of Swisher is set to do just that, as it is expected to vote down Johnson County’s minimum wage ordinance.

Photo by Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

According to the United Nations, by 2050 the world will need to produce an additional 220 million tons of meat per year to satisfy global demand.

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer talks with Harvest Public Media editor Jeremy Bernfeld and reporters Abby Wendel and Luke Runyon about their latest series on meat, Choice Cuts: Meat In America.

Wikimedia Commons

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, is speaking out against Pentagon contractors who, he says, have too much say in U.S. foreign policy.

"Corporate influence in general--big oil, big pharma, big food--all exercise insidious power over presidential decision making, over what this country does, both domestically and internationally," he says. 

Michael Vadon / Flickr

Bernie Sanders has surprised much of the political establishment with his rapid rise. One thing that shouldn’t surprise anyone is his core platform, says John Dillon, news director at Vermont Public Radio. Dillon has covered Sanders for more than 25 years and says the candidate has focused on economic inequality from his earliest campaigns.

“Even when he was running as a third party candidate for U.S. senator and governor in the state of Vermont back in the 70s, he talked about these issues that he’s talking about today.”

Principia School / Flickr

There's more than a century between the candidacies of William Jennings Bryan and Bernie Sanders, but history is still repeating itself when it comes to the elections of 1900 and 2016.

"The Industrial Revolution was creating that same gap that the technological revolution has expanded. There was a sense of dizzying inventions that were being made, that the pace of life was speeding up. People were moving from the farm to the city, so it was a disorienting age much like our own. So that was really the spur for the populist movement."

On this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer catches up with Iowa blues-rockers Wooden Nickel Lottery. 

Lend an ear to hear the group's blistering guitar work, powerful vocals and solid bottom from their debut record, "On My Way." 

Emily Woodbury

One year and nine months after the completion of the new Iowa State Penitentiary, more than 500 of Iowa’s most dangerous offenders were transferred to the new grounds. On this edition of River to River – a look inside Fort Madison’s new $166 million maximum security prison.

Host Ben Kieffer and producer Emily Woodbury take a tour with Warden Nick Ludwick, who says the architecture of the new prison helps maximize safety, even with fewer security guards. He also says that the penitentiary has a certain “vibe” due to the effort he and his staff put towards mutual respect.

THQ Insider / Flickr

Russ Laczniak has no doubt in his mind that video games are linked to increased behavioral problems. A professor of marketing at Iowa State University, he was still left with the question of how and if parents could change those consumption habits.

"We basically wanted to see how their tendencies, in terms of dealing with raising their children, might influence their children's ultimate play of violent video games. We did a national sample of approximately 230 parents. We talked to parents and children."

Emily Woodbury

In August, more than 500 of Iowa’s most dangerous offenders were moved into the new $166 million Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. The new facility is a quantum leap ahead of the “old fort,” as it was known, some of which dated back to the 1830s, before Iowa became a state.

Shever / Flickr

The University of Iowa's Center for Global, Regional and Environmental Research has been studying climate change in Iowa and around the world for 25 years this year. 

Greg Carmichael, co-director of the center and professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa, says public opinion has come a long way since the center's founding and that climate change deniers are "dead wrong" about the facts. 

Brookings Institution / Flickr

The first Democratic debate of the 2016 presidential election season saw hardball questions from Anderson Cooper on electability, gun control, and a range of other issues. While media organizations like Politico claim Clinton won by a landslide, online polls at Facebook and Slate show Bernie winning by the same. Dennis Goldford, political scientist at Drake University, claims the issue lies in representation. 

"The internet is not representative of the electorate as a whole--."

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