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

Just three days before the national spotlight reaches full intensity, Iowa’s Democratic and Republican Party chairs sit down with River to River host Ben Kieffer to discuss the unique process of each party’s caucus, their turnout expectations, and their take on the surprise populist candidates on each side.

Jeff Kaufmann, Chair of the Republican Party of Iowa, says he expects turnout to exceed that of 2012, when around 120,000 Iowans voted in the Republican caucuses.

John Pemble / IPR

This year's campaign for president has defied conventional wisdom. While analysts originally looked at fundraising and previous political experience, they overlooked one thing -- the state of mind of the electorate.

Jericho/Wikimedia Commons

Income inequality and the shrinking middle class are major themes in this election cycle, and that's just as true in Iowa as it is elsewhere in the country. Iowa, however, is one of the more equitable states in the country. That's according to David Peters, an associate professor of sociology at Iowa State University. 

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Nineteen states have adopted policies that leave questions about criminal history off a first round job application. Legislation to “ban the box” is now being considered in Iowa, with civil rights groups for the move, and some business leaders speaking out against it. During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Justin R. McCarthy, a welder with a felony conviction on his record, about finding work after being released from federal prison.

Liz Martin

In just over a week, the nation’s eyes turn to Iowa for the first-in-the-nation test of presidential candidates.

On this special edition of River to River, called "Pints and Politics," columnists Todd Dorman and Lynda Waddington of The Gazette, as well as Gazette political reporter James Lynch, join host Ben Kieffer and co-host Jennifer Hemmingsen to talk about what this very surprising campaign season means for Iowa and for the nation.

TEDx MidAtlantic / Flickr

Before Iowans make up their minds before caucus night, Jose Antonio Vargas wants them to consider a few more perspectives. The founder of Define American, a non-profit organization dedicated to pushing forward the conversation around immigration, he decided to bring that discussion to Iowans through film.

"The conversation is way too simplified. We don't have enough context and we don't have enough facts. The goal of this festival at its core is to really humanize the issue and to present a vast array of stories. There isn't one immigrant story."

Clay Masters

Twelve days before the Iowa caucuses, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad says a Ted Cruz victory in the Iowa caucuses would be a big mistake and very damaging to Iowa.

“I think it would be a big mistake for Iowa to support him,” says Branstad. “I know he’s hitting the polls, but the only one that counts is the one they take on caucus night.”

Marufish / Flickr

In Des Moines Thursday Night, the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network hosted a panel about the future of energy policy and technology. One recurring theme was that Iowa is an agent for change when it comes to clean energy. Heather Zichal, a native Iowan, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, and former top advisor on clean energy to President Obama, says that doesn’t come as a surprise.

Kevin Chang / Flickr

When President Obama announced his proposed changes to gun laws, pro-Second Amendment groups like the National Rifle Association responded negatively, calling the proposals ineffective and a distraction from terrorism concerns. Some Iowa gun owners, however, are supporting Obama's plans.

"I'm an avid hunter and I would like to say that I support what the President has got going on," says one caller. "I've never once thought of my guns as anything less than killing machines."

Pete Souza, Official White House Photo / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

President Barack Obama gave his eighth and final State of the Union address on Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress. Instead of a traditional speech where the President lays out an agenda for the coming year, the President took more of a long term view.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer is joined by Lyons, Colorado-based artist Arthur Lee Land, whose eclectic and dizzying use of live looping has been mesmerizing audiences across the nation. 

Listen in below to hear the story of Arthur's ability to re-frame what many deem a disability into a gift, and tap your feet to the joyous music that results. 

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer welcomes Iowa's own hot new soul group The Maytags. 

Listen in to the podcast below to hear the group's unhurried, inconspicuous brand of soul music that is putting the genre back on the map in the Midwest. 

Courtesy of John Little

Between the ages of 55 and 62, John Little completed 15 Ironman triathlons. For the last three years, he could only power-walk the leg of the race where he was supposed to run due to the pain in his knees.

“I finally went in and had my knees x-rayed. My surgeon told me, ‘I don’t understand how you’re walking right now.’”

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

The Iowa legislature is back in session today. Leaders are in sharp division over the state budget, and questions about education funding are fueling disagreements. The Senate wants a four percent increase, and the House wants a two percent increase. 

During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Senate President Pam Jocum (D) from Dubuque and Speaker Pro Tem Matt Windschitl  (R) from Missouri Valley about lawmakers' priorities for the 2016 session. 

apeofjungle / Flickr

Earlier this week President Obama announced a plan of executive actions meant to reduce gun violence in America. Among them are attempts to close the so-called "gun show loophole," increase FBI staff running background checks, put larger restrictions on those that buy firearms through corporations or trusts, and remove barriers to integrating mental health records into background check databases. In this News Buzz interview, Ross Loder, Bureau Chief responsible for the weapons permits section at the Iowa Department of Public Safety, joins Ben Kieffer to discuss Iowa gun law.

RifeIdeas / Wikimedia Commons

Donald Trump released his first television ad this week in Iowa and New Hampshire. In it, he promises to stop what he calls radical Islamic terrorism by creating a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. Imam Taha Tahwil, director of the Mother Mosque in Cedar Rapids, has a less extreme, and more conversational, proposition: Trump should visit the mosque.

Mother Mosque website

The head of a Cedar Rapids mosque is inviting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to meet with members of the Muslim community.  Imam Taha Tawil of the Mother Mosque says his members would like to hear about Trump’s plans if he’s elected, and have a chance to talk to him about Muslims’ role in the U-S over the last 100-plus years. 

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."