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

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.

Wikimedia Commons

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." 

On Friday, October 23 at the Java House in downtown Iowa City, IPR Studio One's Ben Kieffer will host a live hour of "Java Blend" with guest Nathan Bell.

Stop in to hear Ben chat with Bell about his upcoming project, an ode to American workers entitled "I Don't Do This for Love, I Do This for Love." 

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--."

Readthisandlearn, Wikimedia Commons

The Iowa General Assembly has taken steps over the last few years to make the procedures for arresting a drunken boater closer to those for arresting a drunken driver. Iowa’s Supreme Court will be the next authority to make a decision on the matter.

Last month, the court heard oral arguments in the case of the State vs. Pettijohn.

“There are two issues in this case. One has to do with the stop of the boat and one has to do with the breath test back at the station,” explains University of Iowa law professor Todd Pettys.

Courtesy of the World Food Prize

In the early 1970s in Bangladesh, three significant events happened in sequence. A cyclone killed 300,00 people. A war for independence from Pakistan broke out. And a young man left his job at Shell Oil. Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the 2015 World Food Prize Laureate, had been working for the oil company when he took a short break  to do relief work in the region devastated by the tropical cyclone.

On this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer chats with Iowa City folk group The Awful Purdies. 

Listen in to hear stories and songs from their new album, "All Recipes are Home." 

Jim Wagner likes to work on old cars; that’s how it all started.

Wagner is a veteran and co-founder of the Veteran’s Freedom Center in Dubuque, a non-profit organization devoted to helping veterans who have fallen through the cracks of more traditional outreach programs. Al Rowell, also a co-founder of the center, says last year they saw more than 6,000 vets circle through their doors. The oldest was 95-years-old, and the youngest was in his early 20s. 


Mars has been receiving a lot of attention recently. In the new Ridley Scott movie, The Martian, a NASA botanist is stranded on Mars and has to rely on his own ingenuity to survive. In real life, scientists have discovered evidence of present day water on the red planet.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer sits down with astrophysicists, Steve Kawaler of Iowa State University and Jasper Halekas of the University of Iowa, along with retired NASA astronaut, Clayton Anderson, to discuss the accuracy and impact of films like The Martian.

On this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer catches up with legendary Iowa City songwriter Dave Moore. 

Listen in below to hear what Moore's been up to lately. 

Sunny / Flickr

CPAP machines, used to assist those struggling with problems like sleep apnea, may not be as effective across the board as once thought. In fact, the machines can be dangerous or even fatal for patients who experience heart failure or those who suffer from muscular dystrophy.

MjZ Photography / Flickr

Rey Junco, an associate professor in the school of education at Iowa State University, believes the long-held wisdom is true--if you want to do well in class, you have to spend time with the material. But with shifty students who might inflate how much time they're spending reading, he's had to get more creative with how he collects data.

"We often identify students who are struggling by their grades--by their poor grades or their poor attendance or something that we can measure. But often by the time we've measured it, it's too late."

Emily Woodbury

This program originally aired on November 17, 2014.

This year, U.S. farmers are bringing in what is expected to be a record breaking harvest. On this edition of River to River - the modern day harvest.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer catches up with prominent Iowa blues artists Joe and Vicki Price on the RAGBRAI trail on a hot day in July. 

Tune in to hear tunes from the Prices' newest release, "Night Owls." 

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer learns what Iowa singer-songwriter Chad Elliott has been up to lately. 

Lend an ear below to hear tracks from Elliott's brand new album, "Wreck and Ruin." 

Iowa Historical Society

From Howard Dean’s famous scream to campaign buttons, bumper stickers, and other memorabilia, a new exhibit at the Iowa History Museum takes a a look back at four decades of the Iowa caucuses.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Black Iowans feel profiled by police, and reviews have found that Iowa’s profiling policies fall short of national standards.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with those calling for change in the way justice is implemented in Iowa, a state that holds the number one ranking in the nation for incarcerating African Americans on a per capita basis.

“The problem at this point is over incarceration; it’s not skyrocketing crime rates," says Vikrant Reddy, senior fellow at the Charles Koch Institute. "Those are actually declining."

courtesy of Brad Anderson

Above + Beyond Cancer, a Des Moines-based non-profit, was planning on taking a group of caregivers and cancer survivors to Nepal. Then, the earthquake hit. Dr. Richard Deming, founder of the group, says that changed everything.

Ripley Entertainment

Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the organization that collects and exhibits oddities from all over the world, has a new book Eye Popping Oddities that highlights a few Iowans.

Edward Meyer, Vice President of Exhibits and Archives, has been traveling the world collecting unusual stories and artifacts for more than three decades. 

"If you look at page 230 in the  new book, we have a photo of a guy who collected his fingernail clippings for over 10 years and sent me a paper weight made of them," he laughs. "It's probably buried under paper." 

Brian Timmermeister / Flickr


When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker dropped out of the Republican Presidential Primary Monday, that left one Midwesterner left in the GOP field--Ohio Governor John Kasich. Kasich has visited the state far less than some of his Republican counterparts, just twice in this election cycle. That will change when he stops by Sioux City, Council Bluffs, and Davenport in the next week. Kasich isn't worried about that lack of time he's spent in the state.