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

Health of Iowa Schools

Mar 22, 2010

Iowa school districts are in the middle of tough contract negotiations with teachers. Funding from the state has declined and some districts are turning to property taxes or cash reserve accounts to make up the difference. Meanwhile the Iowa Association of School Boards embroiled in scandal. Host Jeneane Beck looks at the fiscal health of our schools with school administrators and the head of the Iowa Association of School Boards.

Backyard Chickens

Mar 19, 2010

In an archived program from last November, we discuss the movement in several Iowa communities to allow town residents to keep backyard chickens. Among the guests- the President of McMurray Hatchery in Webster City, the largest rare-breed poultry hatchery in the world. And a representative of CLUCK-Citizens for the Legalization of Urban Chickens in Cedar Rapids.

The 2010 Census

Mar 18, 2010

The once-a-decade population count is underway and census forms are arriving in millions of mailboxes across the country. Host Alex Heuer looks at the challenges and benefits to participation and examines demographic trends and how the census could affect Iowa's congressional representation.

Moms Off Meth

Mar 17, 2010

In a show that first aired in October of last year, we hear from members of the unique substance abuse help group Moms Off Meth. The first Moms Off Meth group started in Ottumwa over ten years ago after numerous mothers had their children taken away do to their addictions. Now ten years later, several Moms Off Meth groups are assisting mothers across the state.

Biodiesel in Iowa

Mar 16, 2010

Backers say Iowa is losing its position as a top biodiesel state. In January, a plant in Keokuk was put on the auction block. The U.S. Senate has voted to revive a biodiesel tax credit through 2010, but the Iowa legislature has rejected efforts to require diesel be blended with biodiesel. Host Jonathan Ahl talks with backers and opponents of government efforts to boost biodiesel sales.

Job Creation in Iowa

Mar 15, 2010

With more than 100,000 Iowans out of work and just two weeks left in the legislative session, minority Republicans are ramping up criticism of Democrats for failing to introduce a job creation bill. But as the majority party scrambles to find consensus on the measure, a state labor analyst says the employment picture is improving. Host Jeneane Beck discusses the job outlook with state lawmakers.

Tea Party

Mar 12, 2010

In a program broadcast live from the Java House in downtown Iowa City, we look at the emergence of the Tea Party as a grass roots political organization. We'll talk with Iowa Tea Party organizers and get their take on the influence they have in the political process and the conservative movement.

What obstacles do new farmers face? The challenge of access to land, the availability of finance and credit, creating new markets and implementing the 2008 Farm Bill are a just a few of the topics we'll explore with Neil Hamilton and Matt Russell from Drake Law School's Agriculture Law Center. Drake recently hosted a forum in Washington D.C. examining challenges for farmers. Later we examine the use of cover crops and their benefit to land sustainability.

Gambling in Iowa

Mar 10, 2010

A new state report shows revenues from Iowa's gambling casino industry dropped considerably in 2009. The report comes as Governor Culver urges the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission to approve new casino license requests. We'll talk with community leaders seeking gambling operations and examine the economic development aspect of casinos in Iowa.

Human Rights

Mar 9, 2010

Host Ben Kieffer talks with Jane Olson, Chair of the International Board of Human Rights Watch about the "survivorship stories" she has witnessed in 30 years of travel to war zones in Nicuragua, the former Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

Recreation issues

Mar 8, 2010

Lawmakers have been debating the soundness of having a state run destination park (Honey Creek Resort State Park,) and new safeguards for bicyclists. Host Jeneane Beck talks with lawmakers involved in the discussions, including State Representative Clel Baudler and State Senator Matt McCoy. Join in the conversation to share your experiences as a cyclist on Iowa roadways, or as a vacationer at Honey Creek.

New York Times bestselling author, award-winning journalist and well-respected commentator Steven V. Roberts has always been fascinated by his grandparents’ migration to America from the Old World nearly one hundred years ago, and he traced their story in his stirring memoir 'My Fathers’ Houses'. In his latest book, 'From Every End of this Earth: 13 Families and the New Lives They Made in America', he explores the contemporary immigrant experience. Roberts will discuss his latest work during a stop at the Des Moines Central Library.

Violence in Culture

Mar 4, 2010

A conversation with award-winning author David Schmid who travels to Grinnell this week for a conference examining violence in American culture. Schmid is the author of "Natural Born Celebrities: Serial Killers in American Culture," and has published on a variety of subjects, including celebrity, Dracula and crime fiction. Later in the hour, Iowa State University Psychology Professor Craig Anderson talks about new research analyzing exposure to violent video games.

A new report from the Iowa Hospital Association finds the state's community hospitals generate nearly 148,000 jobs that add more than $6.1 billion to the economy. According to the report, Iowa hospital employees by themselves spend nearly $2 billion on retail sales and contribute more than $117 million in state sales tax revenue. We’ll look into the economics and the debate over hospitals’ role in the cost of care and their role in health care reform.

Kevin Connolly

Mar 2, 2010

Host Ben Kieffer talks with Kevin Connolly about his memoir "Doubletake," and his Rolling Exhibition. Connolly, who was born without legs, has photographically documented the reactions of people all over the world to his disability.

Campaign Finance

Mar 1, 2010

The Iowa Legislature is considering new restrictions on Corporations that wade into political advertising. That’s after the U.S. Supreme court lifted the ban on corporate contributions in January. Jeneane Beck talks with Charlie Smithson, Exec. Dir. of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board about the integrity of the system. Then, the Chairs of Iowa's democratic and republican parties discuss the upcoming races for Governor and U.S. Senate.

Academic Acceleration

Feb 26, 2010

Only eight states currently have a policy that specifically permits academic acceleration defined as the practice of advancing students in subjects at a rate that matches their potential and places them ahead of where they would normally be in school. Iowa is not one of those eight states. Why not? Iowa is among the other states who leave it up to the school districts to develop the practice of acceleration.

We examine recent cases where college students went missing one at Iowa State University and one at the University of Iowa, and the questions these cases raise about how reports of missing students are handled. Among the guests- the Dean of Students at the UI and ISU, and the director of theJED Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the mental health of college students across the country.

Spring Flood Forecast

Feb 24, 2010

Above-normal snowfall and below-normal temperatures have increased the risk for flooding in the state this year. We'll talk about potential flooding with Jeff Zogg, hydrologist with the National Weather Service. We'll also discuss the popularity of rain barrels and the small things Iowa residents can do to curb the effects of flooding.

How can a neurological disability be thought of as a difference akin to race, ethnicity or sexual orientation? Do we really have an adequate understanding of autism, specially "classical" or "severe" autism? To what extent have non-autistic researchers misinterpreted what they have observed? Among the guests- Grinnell College English Professor Ralph Savarese, the author of "Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption".

Driving restrictions

Feb 22, 2010

The Iowa legislature is poised to approve several driving-related bills, including a ban on texting while driving and a revamped graduated drivers' license system. On our weekly legislative show, Jeneane Beck talks with lawmakers about prospects for passage and health care professionals about why they're pushing for more restrictions.


Feb 19, 2010

A new report indicating antidepressants are little more than placebos is adding to a long-brewing controversy over the drugs’ effectiveness. The safety of antidepressants rest on solid scientific evidence, but are we learning more about their ability to treat mental illness? Among the guests- University of Iowa Psychiatrist Dr. Robert Robinson and Psychologist Don Damsteegt.

Imagine coming face to face with someone who burglarized your home, or even someone who killed a family member Could you do it, and if so, what would you say? We talk about restorative justice how it’s being used in Polk County and throughout the state. Later, a conversation focusing on rehabilitation how volunteers are creating writer’s workshops and choirs in prison.

Auto Recalls

Feb 17, 2010

Auto recalls continue at a critical time in the automobile industry. What do Toyota recalls mean for Iowa car dealers and the U.S. automotive industry? What can other car manufacturers learn from Toyota's troubles? Ben Kieffer talks with Ken Chester of the Motor News Media and Barrett Thomas of the University of Iowa's Tippe College of Business.

Iowa Documentarians

Feb 16, 2010

The film 'The Cove', which shows a secret dolphin-killing field in Japan, is a favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary. Dubuque-native Louis Psihoyos who directed and starred in the film discusses the project. Also, photojournalist and author Chip Duncan, a native of Shenendoah, discusses his new book 'Enough to Go Around: Searching for Hope in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Dafur'.

Iowa Judicial System

Feb 15, 2010

Iowa’s Judicial branch faces a budget crunch and increasing demand for judicial services. How is Iowa’s court system handling tough economic times? What have furloughs meant for those seeking access to Iowa’s courts? Host Jeneane Beck talks with Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Jane Lorentzen, President of the Iowa State Bar Association.

A conversation with University of Iowa Professors Tony Paik and Erika Lawrence. Paik's study found that married couples are less likely to experience jealous feelings, but when they do, it's more damaging to the relationship. Later in the hour, in memory of Iowa's former Poet Laureate, we listen back to an interview with Robert Dana.

Title IX

Feb 10, 2010

A discussion about Title IX, a nearly forty year old law that opened the door for women in high school and college sports. We speak with Donna Lopiano, the former C.E.O. of the Women’s Sports Foundation and a pioneer and champion of Title IX. Then, a conversation with Calli Sanders, Senior Associate Athletics Director at Iowa State University, and Craig Ihnen, Associate Director of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union about the status of Title IX in Iowa.

Folk artist Vance Gilbert’s songs and stage banter often touch on the fact that he's a black man in a field of music dominated by both white performers and audiences. To mark black history month, we talk with Gilbert about his latest CD and about his upcoming show in eastern Iowa. Jazz musician Ray Blue talks about his own music and the role music plays in black history.

A flood plain management bill will set rules for land use within the 500-year flood plain. The bill is aimed at preventing future flooding and losses. But, some communities may no longer get funding to help build/maintain levees, or would be required to raise houses and businesses to certain elevations within the flood plain. We’ll talk about the pros and cons of the recommendations contained within the bill.