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

Iowa Department of Corrections

Earlier this month, more than 500 of Iowa’s most dangerous offenders were transferred to a new maximum-security prison in Fort Madison.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Bill Petroski of the Des Moines Register about the transfer, the differences in the new and old facilities, and the roughly $175 million cost of the prison, originally estimated at $130 million.

John Pemble / IPR

As former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton turns over her personal email server to the FBI amid allegations that she sent or received classified information through personal email accounts, it's too early to tell whether the story will hurt her presidential aspirations.  That's according to Dianne Bystrom, Director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics and Kelly Winfrey, a Lecturer in Leadership and Communication Studies at the Catt Center. 

Smanatha Ing / Flickr

The Alzheimer's Association International Conference was held last month in Washington, D.C. And though there were some glimmers of hope for new treatments, results as a whole were mixed. Dr. Hyungsub Shim, Clinical Assistant Professor of Neurology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, attended the conference. He says that, considering they've gone 13 years without a new medicine, even mixed results can be encouraging.

liz west / Flickr

Before automatic text messages and digital highway signs, there was a simpler way to spread the word about an abducted child -- the milk carton. And the first faces to show up on them? Iowans Johnny Gosch and Eugene Martin.

Lwp Kommunikáció / Flickr

Hollywood has played out the disaster of an asteroid hitting Earth in films like  Armageddon  and Deep Impact, but is a killer asteroid really in Earth’s future? 

"According to previous history, it will happen during the next 100 years," says Bong Wei, the founding director of the Asteroid Deflection Research Center. "It's time to see an impact by say, a 50 meter asteroid."

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer chats with singer-songwriter JD Eicher and his band, The Goodnights.

Listen in below for Eicher's crafty, introspective brand of pop-rock. 

Paul De Los Reyes / Flickr

Local and national politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, have called for reforms aimed at reducing America’s prison and jail populations, particularly nonviolent offenders like drug users.

In a speech earlier this month to the NAACP, President Obama said the U.S. needs to fund more drug courts.

Don Graham / Flickr, Licensed Under Creative Commons

President Obama unveiled his Clean Power Plan this week. The plan sets the first-ever EPA standards on power plant emissions and requires a 32% reduction in those emissions over the next 15 years. It also seeks to boost renewable energy sources.

2016 Republican presidential hopefuls reacted negatively to the plan. Florida Senator Marco Rubio called it "catastrophic," while former Florida Governor Jeb Bush described it as "irresponsible and over-reaching." New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called it an example of "overregulation" that would "kill American businesses and jobs."

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer talks with Des Moines folk musician Ryne Doughty. 

Listen below for tunes that ooze with genuine, melancholy insight. 

TruckPR / Flickr

The Iowa Board of Regents is calling for a three percent tuition increase in the spring for Iowa’s public universities. Such an increase would break the tuition freeze on resident tuition from the past 2.5 years.

On this River to River segment, Ben Kieffer sits down with Iowa State University President Steven Leath to talk about college affordability and other concerns in higher education.

Mohamed Somji / Flickr

In parts of Afghanistan, some families without sons pick a daughter to dress and live as a boy - a practice known as bacha posh.

In the first half of this encore edition of River to River, investigative reporter Jenny Nordberg talks with Ben Kieffer about what is behind bacha posh, a practice she details in her book, The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan.

European External Action Service / Flickr

This month, negotiators reached a deal to lift economic sanctions on Iran while limiting their nuclear ability. Most Republicans, including both of Iowa's senators, are against it. And while the political ramifications have been thoroughly hashed out, less attention has been paid to the perspective of Iranians and Iranian-Americans. 

Niloufar Talebi is an Iranian-American writer and translator, and the editor of Belonging: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World. She says this deal could signal a larger shift and opening of cultural relations.

Clay Masters

Sunday in New Hampshire Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laid out her plan to combat climate change, calling for a sharp increase in the use of renewable energy.

"First, we need to have more than half a billion solar panels installed across the country by the end of my first term," says Clinton. "Second, we'll set a ten year goal of generating enough renewable energy to power every single home in America."

While her proposal drew praise, it also received some criticism due to things left out, including Keystone XL, fracking, and Arctic oil.

Wikimedia Commons

It’s been 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities act was signed into law. The bill’s chief sponsor, Fmr. Senator Tom Harkin, says that the legislation has done quite a lot in the last two and a half decades, including adding curb cuts to all sidewalks and spurring a flurry of technological innovation to accommodate workers with disabilities.

“Before the ADA, if you had a disability, that’s how you were defined, and you weren’t given an opportunity to show what else you were capable of doing,” Harkin says.

Dan DeLuca / Flickr

Iowa has the highest rate of worker fatalities and injuries in the Midwest.

Kathy Leinenkugel, of the Iowa Department of Public Health, says this is due to several factors, including the fact that Iowa has an aging workforce where many people are self-employed.

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer catches up with Chicago based singer-songwriter Dick Prall. 

Listen in below to the interesting tales Prall weaves with song. 

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer talks with Iowa's own country artist Chad Elliot. 

Listen to the hour long podcast for tracks off his album So Sang the Crow. 

Penguin Random House

Dr. David Casarett was a skeptic when he set out to write Stoned. But in his quest to determine what medical evidence exists for medical marijuana, the palliative care physician found more questions than answers. Host Ben Kieffer talks with him about the book and the research needed to answer those questions.

Casarett and listeners tell stories of how cannabidiol oil has helped children with seizure disorders.  He explains what science knows about the compounds found in cannabis, and the most effective means of extracting and administering those compounds. 

Lindsey Moon / Iowa Public Radio

On this edition of River to River - a listen back to some of the talk show team's favorite News Buzz conversations. Host Ben Kieffer jumps into the pool to find out how the butterfly stroke was invented in Iowa, and he talks with an anthropologist to answer the question of why humans have chins.

US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan / Flickr

For nearly four decades, Ryan Crocker served as ambassador in nearly all the Middle East countries where conflict was present, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

On this edition of River to River, Ambassador Crocker shares his perspective on the Iranian nuclear deal with host Ben Kieffer.

“It could reshape the nuclear scene globally for some time to come,” Crocker says. “That said, no one should think we are moving on to a sun dappled upland in the Middle East.”

Howard Jefferson / Flickr

At an evening camp event in 2010, two teenage boys drowned at the Pella Aquatics Center. Their families filed a claim for negligence against the City of Pella, arguing that the deaths could have been prevented by adequate underwater lighting.

"The lights in the swimming pool apparently were not on that night," says Todd Pettys, of the University of Iowa College of Law. "You couldn't see down to the bottom of the pool."

Nearly five years after the incident, the Iowa Supreme Court considered the question: Are cities liable when employees of city-inspected pools are careless?

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer talks with Manchester, Iowa native Susan Werner, whose widely varied musical style is steeped in all things Iowa. 

Listen in below for tracks off her album Hayseed. 

Kamyar Adl / Flickr

The age of 65 was a milestone that many workers used to look forward to—the promise of retirement, leisure time, and a guaranteed pension.   But the last couple of decades have brought change: most companies don’t provide pensions, employees must make their own investment choices concerning their 401K (if they are lucky enough to even have one), and simply dropping out of the work force at 65 isn’t an option.

West Midlands Police / Flickr

The Burlington Community School district is among the first in the nation to outfit administrators at each of the district's eight school buildings with body cameras. The district is already outfitted with fixed cameras, which Superintendent Pat Coen says have proven useful.

Amanda Tipton / Flickr

The opportunity for prosperity and success in America is in crisis, according to public policy expert Robert Putnam.

"Less able kids from rich backgrounds are more likely to graduate from college than the most able poor kids, and that directly violates the idea of meritocracy." says Putnam.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Vermont State Senator Bernie Sanders is quickly gaining popularity in the polls in his race for the democratic nomination for President, and his rise is definitely unexpected. That's according to Drake University Professor and Harkin Institute Flansburg Fellow Dennis Goldford. 

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend,"  join host Ben Kieffer as he catches up with Davenport's versatile jam band Firesale. 

Listen to their unique blend of ska, funk and rock below. 

David Scrivner / Iowa City Press-Citizen

Iowa’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Democrats in Iowa are calling for an increase, and in Washington, Democratic lawmakers would like to see the federal minimum wage raised to $12 by 2020.

On this edition of River to River we kick off our summer jobs series, Iowa At Work, by talking with Iowans trying to make ends meet on low wages.

Photo by Lynn Betts, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

It’s been a year since Logan Blake was washed into a storm sewer in Cedar Rapids and drown. 

“Logan was playing Frisbee on a playground. This inlet was right by a jogging path. The Frisbee went down into the brush next to the inlet and reached down to grab it, and it had a pretty steep bank. He got swept away, and that was the last anybody saw him alive," his father, Mark Blake says. 

A new study by the Institute of Medicine suggests that cardiac arrest could be the third leading cause of death in the United States.

More than 600,000 people go into cardiac arrest each year outside of hospitals, and fewer than 6 percent of those survive. Dr. Dianne Atkins, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics who worked on the report, says it’s important to distinguish cardiac arrest from a heart attack.