John Pemble

Arts and Culture Reporter

John Pemble is the Arts and Culture reporter at Iowa Public Radio. In 1989, John began his Iowa Public Radio career in Fort Dodge as a program host for jazz, classical, and contemporary instrumental music programs. He joined Iowa Public Radio’s news department in 2008 to produce arts and culture stories.

John spent ten years as an adjunct professor for Iowa Central Community College’s broadcasting department teaching production and operations classes.

John's favorite public radio program is Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

Ways to Connect

Photo by John Pemble

100 years ago, amateur radio operators were in the early years of making wireless communication with people around the world.  Professional radio operators started calling them “ham” as a pejorative, because the amateur’s equipment often caused interference, but operators embraced it and the negative connotation disappeared.  There are 800-thousand licensed ham radio operators in North America with 6,619 of them in Iowa. One of the reasons this hobby continues to move forward is because of regular competitions.  

Photo by John Pemble

The Des Moines Metro Opera's summer 2014 season includes “Dead Man Walking”, the company’s first work from the 21st century.  It’s an adaptation of Sister Helen Prejean’s 1994 book about her experiences of ministering to death row inmates.  The story is based on Prejean’s early prison ministry work when she became the spiritual advisor for death row inmate, Patrick Sonnier until his execution in 1984 at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.  While the opera is based on Sonnier’s case, the story uses a fictious character, Joseph De Rocher.

Wikimedia Commons

When Sister Simone Campbell first heard about Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget deal, she was less than impressed. “America was not founded on individualism, you can’t have a quilting bee alone. We need to encourage solidarity. He made it seem like it’s the responsibility of the poor to pull themselves up by the bootstrap, that’s not right.”

Photo by Clay Masters

Musician David Byrne was a mainstay on MTV in the early 1980s as the lead singer for Talking Heads. The group disbanded in the 90s, but Byrne’s still an influential artist and he used that influence this weekend during the grand opening of Des Moines Social Club.  This nonprofit organization started seven years ago as a center for the arts.  For most of those years it existed in small rented spaces, but now it has its own building, a downtown fire station built in 1937, that’s been under renovation for about a year. 

Photo by John Pemble

Late last year Olafur Eliasson finished the sculpture “panoramic awareness pavilion” in his Berlin studio and in December members of his crew installed it at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines.  The work is a series of 23, 9-foot tall glass panels arranged in a circle around a light beam.  Each slab of glass is semi-reflective in color gradients from yellow, blue, to orange.  Thursday afternoon Eliasson saw his work for the first time in its permanent Iowa home during a brief ceremony conducted by the Des Moines Art Center.

Photo by John Pemble

This week in New York City, nominations for the 68th Annual Tony Awards were announced.  In a few days around 870 voters across the country will receive ballots to determine this year’s winners, but only one will be sent to Iowa. 

Jeff Chelesvig is the CEO of Des Moines Performing Arts, which includes the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, where touring versions of Broadway musicals are presented.  Chelesvig has been a Tony voter for 18 years and says for a musical to be eligible for a Tony award, the producers must formally invite voters to come see the shows in New York.

Photo by John Pemble

Last May when violinist Karla Dietmeyer and cellist Olivia Hahn graduated from Luther College’s music program, they had already formed the modern folk duo The OK Factor.  But to move their musical goals forward, they decided to move to Minneapolis where they developed their songs and made recordings at a friend’s studio.  Some of their concerts dates brought them back to Olivia’s home town Cedar Falls as well as the Iowa State Fair.  By the autumn, Olivia moved to Memphis where she took a day job in an office and Karla to the Atlanta area living with her parents and teaching music lessons.

Photo by John Pemble

Most albums are a group of songs acquired as a single body of music on a vinyl record, CD, or download, but musicians like Max Wellman from Des Moines are challenging this decades old system.  Wellman is a 22-year old jazz singer who has been working full time in the business for three years after dropping out of Butler University in 2011.  Last November he released the CD “You Must Believe in Spring”, a collection of songs by artists like Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Frank Sinatra.  The instrumentation is mostly a string quartet to blend his love of classical music with jazz.

2013 has been a busy year for Iowa Public Radio's news team. Today on River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with reporters and correspondents about some of the most meaningful and challenging stories they covered. It's a "reporter's notebook" edition of the show.

Here is a list of the full features heard on today's show:

January 10 - Undocumented Immigrants at University

Photo by John Pemble

Classic stories are often updated to fit modern times and this year a Des Moines family has adapted an old holiday tale to a digital comic book.  

Photo by John Pemble

This week the musical Wicked is celebrating ten years.  Former Iowan Tim Baudler returned to Des Moines to see this show at the Civic Center with close friends and family to thank them for helping him overcome struggles in his life. 

Photo by John Pemble

Last week a performance combining the musical culture of Hungary and Iowa made its American debut in Cedar Falls.  It was organized by two recent music school graduates specializing in the performance of contemporary percussion music. Today they will share these new works with more Iowans as their short tour across the state resumes.


 

Photo by John Pemble

Guest hosts Katherine Perkins and John Pemble go to the 2013 Iowa State Fair.  They introduce us to a legally blind painter and a famous quilter.  They watch fairgoers shear sheep and clean fish.  They attend an Ecumenical church service for fair attendees and visit a memorial to honor fallen Iowa soldiers.

Photo by John Pemble

Two years ago a memorial honoring Iowa’s fallen veterans began traveling around the state. This week it’s getting its biggest audience yet while on display at the Iowa State Fair.  This new memorial is part of an effort by two Nebraskans who want to make exhibits like this for every state. 

Photo by John Pemble

One of the musical performances this weekend from the Iowa State Fair is the new band “The OK Factor".  Violinist Karla Dietmeyer and cellist Olivia Hahn combine folk, alternative rock, and modern classical music. 



 

Photo by John Pemble

Elsie Monthei is a blind painter who for more than thirty years has painted landscapes.  This week she spent a day at the Iowa State Fair demonstrating her talent for Very Special Arts (VSA), a group with the mission of highlighting the artistic abilities of people with disabilities.

Photo by John Pemble

A new sculpture weighing more than twelve tons has been under construction at the Des Moines Art Center for two weeks.  It’s titled “Scree Stage”, named after the debris of fallen rocks found at the base of a mountain. It’s the center of an exhibit opening this weekend. Iowa Public Radio’s John Pemble visited the Art Center as this massive new work of art began to take its final shape.



 

Photo by Dean Borg


 



 

Photo by John Pemble

One of the biggest changes for the music industry is the shift from publishing music on CDs, to downloadable music files.  There are still artists who prefer their music be available on a tangible medium, even one as old as vinyl.  In Iowa the two year old label Maximum Ames Records, publishes all of its titles on vinyl, including H.D.

Photo by John Pemble

In the second half of the 20th century, native Iowan Norman Borlaug developed wheat seeds that increased crop yields in third world countries.  His work in agriculture led him to a Nobel Peace Prize, a Congressional Gold Medal, and next year he’ll be remembered with a statue in the National Statuary Hall Collection housed in the United States Capitol.  South Dakota artist Benjamin Victor is commissioned to create this sculpture and brought his work in progress to the Iowa Historical Building for a two week artist in residency to get the final details right.



 

John Pemble

In India, motorized rickshaws serve as taxis for short trips. In America, these vehicles are rare but over the weekend you could see them in Iowa albeit for a different purpose. A Des Moines businessman organized a rickshaw race, called “Tuk Tuk Goose”.

John Pemble

Ballet Des Moines is trying something new this year: hiring dancers for a six month residency.  It’s the first time Ballet Des Moines has six full time professional dancers to perform modern and classic productions for an entire season.
 

John Pemble

An assistive service began this weekend in Des Moines allowing blind people to hear descriptions of what’s happening on the stage of a theatrical production. The Iowa Radio Reading Information Service, or IRIS, is providing audio description for blind patrons attending shows during the Civic Center’s Broadway series.

This weekend the Des Moines Symphony performed new music commissioned for their seventy fifth season inspired by art from the city’s two block sculpture park.

Video version of this story.


 

John Pemble

Early last year the Des Moines based band Parlours released their music on a 5 song EP.  Less than 6 months later one of their songs was used in a prime time television program.  This national attention helped give the band the resources to record a full length collection.

A Burlington Middle School is now named after a key scientist in NASA’s Voyager program.  Today the Edward Stone Middle School opens for classes and Ed Stone returned to the hometown where his journey as a space scientist began. 

John Pemble

We're at the Iowa State Fair, and we're taking you with us. From the grand concourse for a Zumba lesson, to Pioneer Hall for a classic radio play, to an outdoor stage for square dancing...and monster arming wrestling to butterfly tagging. Join us for this special edition of "Talk of Iowa".

This morning the Iowa State Fair began with activities promoting the one year old Healthiest State Initiative.  It’s also the first day a dozen new food items high in fat or sugar are available, including the double bacon corn dog. 
 

It’s common for musicians to collaborate in several bands.  This weekend at the 80/35 music festival in Des Moines an active musician found himself playing in three bands during one afternoon.  Iowa Public Radio’s John Pemble followed this busy artist from one stage to the next.

This weekend the annual alternative music festival Eighty Thirty Five marks it’s fifth consecutive year of bringing national acts like Avett Brothers and Death Cab for Cutie to Des Moines.  For some these are new and unusual bands and festival organizers say this is one of the key reasons they put together this music event.

Pages