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

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With the 2016 presidential race picking up speed, Iowa continues to play a major role in the strategies of many candidates vying for nomination.

On this Politics Day edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer sits down with Donna Hoffman and Chris Larimer, Associate Professors of Political Science at the University of Northern Iowa. The pair discussed a book chapter they are working on that breaks down Iowa's historic swing state status.

A central part of the chapter looks into how counties around the state identify politically.

Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst says she doesn't plan to endorse candidates for President but she does plan to welcome both Republican and Democratic contenders to Iowa. 

"I do not plan on endorsing anyone. We have a great and growing field of GOP candidates. That's the wonderful thing about the GOP; we have an interesting number of possibilities. I want to welcome them all to Iowa," she said today in an interview with River to River's host Ben Kieffer. 

Photo by John Pemble

Having served from 1959-1995, 95-year-old Neal Smith is the longest serving Iowan in the United States House of Representatives.

Ray Bodden / Flickr

A bill that would restrict the use of eminent domain for the proposed Bakken Crude Oil Pipeline and the Rock Island Clean Wind Energy Transmission Line was advanced by Iowa House and Senate subcommittees last week.

The proposed bill would mandate private, out-of-state companies acquire 75% of the land needed for their projects voluntarily from land owners before gaining the right of eminent domain from the Iowa Utilities Board. Eminent domain is the government's right to appropriate private land for public use, with compensation.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend" Ben Kieffer will chat with Quad Cities based artist, Lojo Russo.

Download the podcast for a full hour of Americana, blues, and roots music from the renouned vocalist backed by two local favorites, Gayla Drake and Laurie Haag.

Dorret / flickr

Baltimore's top prosecutor announced criminal charges against six officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray.

On this News Buzz edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with opinion writer Rekha Basu to get her thoughts in the aftermath of the protests and riots in Baltimore.

Lieutenant Rex Mueller, of the Sioux City Iowa Police Department, talks about the best methods of community engagement, as a way for police officers to build bridges within their community.

TBEC Review / Flickr

A national survey confirms that e-cigarettes are increasingly popular among teens. Between 2013 and 2014, usage tripled among high school students. The Centers for Disease Control estimates there were 2.4 million e-cigarette youth users last year, and according to this year’s Iowa Youth Survey, e-cigarettes have overtaken regular cigarettes as a preference of Iowa teens.

Director for Tobacco Control and Lung Health for the American Lung Association in Iowa Megan Aucutt says that makes sense given what she’s seen and heard from Iowa teachers.

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Alec Whitters was in his last year of dental school when he dropped out and decided to make a change.  

“Both my parents are doctors. I was in my seventh year of college, and I decided to drop out and go after this idea,” he says. “Everybody thought I was nuts.”

His decision turned out to be a worthwhile gamble. Whitters is a co-founder and CEO of Higher Learning Technologies, a test preparation company that’s trying to make it easier for students to study for big exams.

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The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments over same-sex marriage yesterday, with Justice Anthony Kennedy saying that he’s not sure the court has the power to redefine an institution that has been around for “millennia.”

University of Northern Iowa associate political science professor Donna Hoffman says that at its core, it's a tricky statement.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer chats with the Twin Cities rock group Doug Collins and the Receptionists

Download the full hour podcast below for a listen to Collins' witty lyrics, backed by the roots rock sound of the Receptionists.

Markus Spring / Flickr

Preventing security leaks in information systems can be a frustrating endeavor that often leads back to a simple question: why do people violate the rules when they know of the dangerous consequences?

In order to answer that question, Dr. Qing Hu, a Union Pacific Professor in Information Systems at Iowa State University, decided to go straight to the source: the brain.

Clay Masters / IPR

As spending on Congressional and Presidential campaigns continues to grow, politicians are starting to voice support for measures to try and get some of that money out of politics. 

Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton voiced her support for a Constitutional amendment to limit campaign spending last week in a speech at Kirkwood Community College, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has also spoken in favor of taking a hard look at how much money is being spent on elections. 

manhhai / flickr / Jim Stanitz Collection

Thirteen years, four months and one week after the death of the first American killed in open combat with the enemy, American troops withdrew completely from Vietnam on April 30th, 1975.

On this archive edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Bob Drury, author of a book about the final hours of the withdrawal. Also joining the conversation, former Marine platoon commander in Vietnam Dan Gannon. Gannon is now a Vietnam of America representative to the Iowa Commission of Veterans Affairs. 

Green Fire Productions / flickr

During the 2014 legislative session, lawmakers approved full funding for Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) for the first time in the program’s 25 year history, but Governor Branstad line item vetoed some of that funding when he went to sign the budget.

Will lawmakers fully fund the program again this year, and what are other environmental priorities for this year’s legislature?

John Pemble

Governor Terry Branstad’s administration is proposing a $2 million dollar plan to help ease student debt. It involves giving Iowans a generous tax credit to contribute to charities, who in turn give out grants to students who volunteer for the Iowa based nonprofits. Contributors will get 65% of their contributions back in the form of tax credits.

Student debt is a growing concern for recent graduates in Iowa. Michael Bousselout, legal counsel for Branstad says that while this plan isn’t a “silver bullet,” it’s a start.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend" host, Ben Kieffer will chat with Wisconsin-based folk duo, The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers.

Download the podcast to listen to a full hour of their unique blend of vaudeville, country, and folk.

Sean Dreilinger / flickr

We all have chins, but why humans have chins when other species don’t, is controversial. It’s also the focus of research at the University of Iowa.

On this News Buzz edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer discusses the great anthropological chin debate with Bob Franciscus, UI professor of anthropology.

“Natural selection is not an engineer, but a tinkerer," says Franciscus.

reynermedia / Flickr

Evangelical Protestants are more likely than any other religious group to be climate change skeptics, according to a November 2014 report from the Public Religion Research Institute. But one Evangelical Christian disagrees. 

Katharine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist and the director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. She says it's frustrating that people see religion and climate science as mutually exclusive.

Stephen Harris/Flickr

When Senator Bill Dotzler got food poisoning in Storm Lake, he decided to do something about it.

He introduced Senate File 256 to the legislature with intentions of funneling more funding into food inspections around the state. Traditionally in Iowa, restaurant inspections have been done by the counties, but increasingly counties have been looking to the state to take charge.

Aaron Hall

About half to two-thirds of adults in the U.S. use dietary supplements on a regular basis, contributing to an industry that generated more than $6 billion in 2013.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with experts about an investigation, led by New York’s Attorney General, which found that only 21 percent of common supplements actually had DNA from the plants advertised on the labels.

Dean Borg / Iowa Public Radio

Two more candidates have entered the 2016 race for president. Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy on Sunday in an online video, and Marco Rubio, a one-term senator from Florida, announced his candidacy Monday at a rally in Miami. 

During this River to River program, host Ben Kieffer talks with Iowa Public Radio’s Dean Borg about Clinton’s first campaign stop yesterday in Monticello, Iowa.

J. Stephen Conn

An unusual question is being asked this week in an Iowa courtroom in Garner. When is a previously consenting spouse who is suffering from dementia no longer able to say yes to sex?

After a four year battle with Alzheimer's, Donna Rayhons died in a nursing home last August. She was just a few days away from her 79th birthday. A week later her husband, Henry Rayhons, was arrested. He was charged with sexual abuse. State prosecutors accuse him of having sex with his wife while she was incapacitated by dementia.

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In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend" from 2013 host, Ben Kieffer chats with local Iowa City group, The Beggarmen.

Download the podcast to listen to a full hour of Celtic roots and Irish music.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Deborah Maynard, leader of the Cedar Rapids Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, became the first Wiccan Priestess to give a blessing before the Iowa House of Representatives yesterday. She says her goal was to show that freedom of religion exists in Iowa and in the United States.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

In her first speech on the Senate floor, Joni Ernst proposed the "Prioritizing Veterans' Access to Mental Health Care Act." It would allow veterans to immediately access mental health care from outside the VA if they have significant barriers to care through the agency.

Hillary Clinton is expected to announce her candidacy for president this Sunday. David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Obama, says she is wise to take some time to get her ducks in a row before announcing her campaign.

"You want to be prepared when you come out of the box. You want your campaign to be prepared in every aspect to move forward: from your communications and media to your fundraising to your nascent field operations."

He says now, though, that time has run out.

Lindsey Moon / Iowa Public Radio

The University of Iowa’s museum on wheels is gearing up for another summer on the road, this year with new exhibits.  

2014 exhibits focused on the natural history of Iowa and the human body. This year visitors will find exhibits about Iowans in space, World War II and water.

JC Gillett travels with the 38-foot converted RV.

Gage Skidmore / flickr

This week, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul threw his hat into the 2016 presidential ring.

"The Washington machine that gobbles up our freedoms and invades every nook and cranny of our lives must be stopped,” Paul said in his announcement speech.

On this politics day edition of River to River, political analysts Donna Hoffman of the University of Northern Iowa and Steffen Schmidt of Iowa State University join host Ben Kieffer to talk about the appeal and position of Rand Paul.

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.’”

Daniel Silliman / flickr

In 2012, a landlord in Iowa City was arrested for spying on tenants through peepholes he created in his apartment complex. The landlord, Elwyn Gene Miller, spent a couple weeks in jail, paid fines, and is still a landlord in Iowa City.

On this legislative day edition of River to River, a victim of that peeping landlord, Ruth Lapointe, talks about why invasion of privacy laws need to be strengthened.

"The code currently requires that a perpetrator be aroused by spying on their victim and that their victim be at least partially nude," says Lapointe.

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