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

John Pemble / IPR

In the 1920s, bar associations refused African American lawyers membership, so a dozen lawmakers formed their own in Des Moines. The founding of the National Bar Association in 1925 will be honored with a 30-foot statue this spring called “A Monumental Journey.” It will be installed this spring in a downtown Des Moines park.

During a groundbreaking ceremony, Polk County District Judge Odell McGhee says the 12 founders refused to...

John Pemble / IPR

A year before the Iowa caucuses, hundreds of journalists come here to cover the many presidential candidates. This month, a Los Angeles crew is in Iowa filming six 30 minute episodes of a comedy television series about being a reporter during the campaign season. “Embeds” centers around four young reporters covering a presidential candidate struggling to stay in the race. Peter Hamby and Scott Conroy created the show based on their reporting experiences. As Conroy works with the cast and crew...

John Pemble / IPR

Ten Iowans have been honored at the Iowa State Fair with governor’s Lifesaving Awards. Two of those recipients are Craig Smith and Steve Neal from Mount Vernon. Last March they were sitting next to their friend Adrain Ringold during a coffee club gathering. Ringold suddenly passed out and had no pulse. Smith and Neal took him to the floor and began performing CPR.

Neal sang the classic disco hit “Stayin Alive” by the Bee Gees, while Smith began applying chest compressions. “Steve...

John Pemble / IPR

A new work of art about the bond between horses and humans is at the Iowa State Fair in the century-old horse barn. Most of the 400 stalls are occupied by horses waiting for competitions, some with their human companions camping next to them, providing company and care. At stall 406 is something different: a white fiberglass horse head hanging on a wooden mount illuminated by several work lights. This narrow stall houses the exhibition titled “Switch” created by M12 studio, a collection of a...

Dr. Christopher Peters introduced himself to an audience at the Iowa State Fair Thursday as the Republican candidate for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. Peters told those gathered at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox he wants to make sure people have less government in people’s lives. “Our founders were deeply distrustful of centralized powerful government,” he said. “They sought to diffuse power between the three branches of the national government, as well as between the national...

John Pemble / IPR

The 2016 Iowa State Fair got underway this morning with an opening ceremony at the newly-renovated Oman Family Youth Inn building. It’s one of many fair facilities that’s been upgraded in recent years with funding from the Blue Ribbon Foundation. Fair manager Gary Slater says since the foundation was formed 23 years ago, it has raised $125 million.

"We have completed many renovation projects, many new construction projects, that obviously would not have been possible without this...

John Pemble / IPR

Portraits are often a visual experience with a photograph or painting, but Alex Braidwood created a portrait of Des Moines exclusively with sound. His project was commissioned by the Des Moines Art Center as part of its annual “Iowa Artists” spotlight. Most of the source audio for this work was captured in May with four black boxes in different areas of the city. Braidwood calls them listening machines and they recorded two minutes of sound every 20 minutes. One was mounted to the second...

Photo by John Pemble

Des Moines artist Max Jury is living in London for most of this year promoting and touring his debut eponymous album that just came out. Jury started recording music when he was in high school and pursued it further by attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston. While he was in school, demo recordings of his music caught the attention of the label Marathon Artists in London, England. They offered him a publishing contract. Jury says he had every intention of graduating from college. ...

John Pemble

A new art exhibit with works by troubled teens about social justice issues is now in a downtown Des Moines gallery. The effort is organized by ArtForce I owa, a non-profit group working with teens going through the court system. The centerpiece was created this spring in a classroom at the Polk County Juvenile Detention Center.
Des Moines artists and mentors with ArtForce Iowa Saulaman Schiegel and Jordan Weber conducted eight weekly 90 minute workshops at the...

Photo by John Pemble

For 20 years, the Red Cedar Chamber Music ensemble has been led by a husband and wife dedicated to performing classical music they commissioned in rural venues like the community center in Central City. This is a town with less than 2,000 people near Cedar Rapids. On a Friday night, 50 people are listening to Red Cedar perform a new piece by Stephen Cohn titled “Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight.” The acoustics here don’t favor the flute, violin, guitar or cello, something co-founder and...

Photo by Kyle Munson

One of the Iowa's most generous philanthropists has died at the age of 79. Richard Jacobson grew up in Belmond. He died today at his home in Florida. Jacobson used the wealth he built as owner of a Des Moines-based shipping company to support many causes in the areas of health care, education and the Iowa State Fair. His large gifts include $15 million to the University of Northern Iowa’s College of Education and $100 million to the Mayo Clinic, the largest gift Mayo has ever received from a...

Joyce Russell, Sarah Boden, Amy Mayer/IPR

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses for the Republican presidential nomination, while the Democratic race between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was considered neck-and-neck early this morning. In a speech at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, Cruz thanked Iowa Republicans while also referencing scripture, Reagan Democrats, and what he calls “courageous conservatives”. Cruz struck a balance, offering humble thanks to his many supporters, both...

Photo by John Pemble

Florida Senator Marco Rubio came in third in the Republican Iowa Caucuses last night, one percent point away from second place finisher Donald Trump. During a speech to his supporters in downtown Des Moines Rubio said, he is grateful to Iowans. “You believed in me when others didn’t think this night would be possible, when perhaps you were lost in the daily narrative, when some suggested that perhaps it was time to step aside. You believed in me.”
Rubio congratulated Republican winner...

Still rendered by Josh Larson

In 2010, Colorado video game developer Ryan Green's one year old son was diagnosed with cancer. To cope with what eventually became a four year struggle with the disease, he channeled his creative energy into an interactive project about what it’s like for his family to be in this situation. This was around the time he met Des Moines game developer Josh Larson. Larson says they quickly realized they had a shared vision of what video games could be. "This vision that video games could explore...

Photo by John Pemble.

Fifty years ago this week, students in the Des Moines school district were suspended for wearing black armbands to silently protest the Vietnam War. They sued the district and lost, but eventually a Supreme Court decision ruled in their favor in a case considered a landmark for first amendment rights. This week those students are visiting Des Moines schools to share their history-making experience with a new generation. During a visit to a Des Moines elementary school, Mary Beth Tinker and...

Photo by John Pemble

The national tour of the musical The Bridges of Madison County launched last weekend at the Des Moines Civic Center. The story is based on the popular novel published in the 90s about a traveling photographer who is sent to Winterset to shoot the bridges for a magazine. He meets a married farm wife and the two fall in love during a week long affair. The two leading roles are played by New York actors Andrew Samonsky and Elizabeth Stanley. Last October they came to Winterset to experience the...

Photo by John Pemble

The chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts has concluded a two-day visit to Iowa, which included conducting research for the NEA's future. In a Town Hall-style meeting in downtown Des Moines last night, NEA Chairman Jane Chu said she'd just met with Iowa arts leaders to help write an infrastructure report. It will assess what resources will be required to expand a community's arts sector as part of the NEA’s new initiative called Creativity Connects. " Creativity Connects is about...

Paul Starnes

All his life, Steven Starnes, who lives in northern Iowa, was told to stay away from his father’s collection of old audio tapes. After being boxed up for two generations, the recordings have been brought back to life unlocking a love affair that goes back to the Vietnam War. In 1970, Army Specialist Paul Starnes hosted a radio show on the American Forces Vietnam Network for thousands of listeners including servicemen in the Cam Ranh Bay area located on the central coast of South Vietnam....

Photo by John Pemble

Small science fiction booklets created by amateurs in the 1930s gave birth to the independent publication known as zines or fanzines. The University of Iowa special collections department is storing thousands of rare zines, which are now are in the process of being digitized for the first time. They are stored in a secure area of the University of Iowa libraries where the ceiling lights have special filters to prevent damage to priceless documents. Curator Peter Balestrieri prefers to play it...

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Immigration was a hot topic Saturday at the Iowa State Fair during Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie's time at the Political Soapbox. Protesters often interrupted during their speeches. As Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaks, a group of 25 protesters chant while holding a sign saying "citizenship now." The Republican presidential candidate says their activism is financed by big business interests. "They can send them on as many junkets as they want, they can try to interrupt as many speeches...

John Pemble/IPR

At night, a woman holds a tired child while looking at the glowing lights of rides from the Iowa State Fair's Midway. 8/20/2015 Photo by John Pemble

Photo by John Pemble

Every hour, thousands of people walk up and down the Grand Concourse at the Iowa State Fair. Near the curb of this busy street is the Des Moines Register's Political Soapbox, a small unassuming stage surrounded by hay bales. This is where invited presidential candidates speak for 20 minutes about anything they want. Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee makes a joke about his frequent use of Pizza Ranch restaurants for campaign stops. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley starts his speech by saying it...

John Pemble/IPR

During the hot days of the Iowa State Fair, kids cool off in a mist of water. 8/20/2015 Photo by John Pemble

Photo by John Pemble

Des Moines artist Ben Schuh was commissioned by the Iowa State Fair to create a mural on site during the 11-day event. He is elevated 10 feet in the air by a motorized scaffolding, so he can work on the details of his drawing of the State Capitol and landscapes filled with wind turbines. These are a few of the Iowa scenes on a 14-by-12 foot painting. Last spring, Schuh was one of many artists to submit a sketch for a mural and board officials selected his to be brought to life during the fair...

John Pemble/IPR

Hannah Wickham’s ribbons in her guitar case for performing on the Bill Riley Stage. It’s the Mt. Pleasant 18-year-old’s first time playing at the Iowa State Fair. 8/17/2015 Photo by John Pemble

John Pemble/IPR

A 1972 Allis Chalmers is one of many restored tractors at Iowa State Fair as part of the Future Farmers of America Ag Mechanics show. 8/15/2015 Photo by John Pemble

Photo by John Pemble

There is no shortage of veterinarians for house pets, but in some rural areas of the United States there aren’t enough veterinarians to go around for livestock. A program called Vet Camp at the Iowa State Fair recognizes this problem and it is doing something to encourage youth to explore veterinary medicine on the farm as a career. In a small air conditioned room at the Jacobson Exhibition Center, seven children are watching a video of a cow undergoing a cesarean section. It shows a doctor...

John Pemble/IPR

First place winning Janie Orange and Safari Orange Marigold flowers are on display in the Agriculture Building along with other varieties of colorful petals. 8/14/2015 Photo by John Pemble.

John Pemble/IPR

A foot long Corn Dogs with an large chunk of batter from one of many Campbells Concessions stands. Campbells has been a vendor at the Iowa State Fair since 1954 when they were called Mel Little Concessions, and a Corn Dog was known as Poncho Dogs. 8/14/2015 Photo by John Pemble

John Pemble/IPR

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources building contains many works of art made from 10,000 water bottles that came from the donated garbage of a large church’s single day event earlier this summer. The blue fish is one of four archway installations using 2,400 of those bottles with colored cellophane to bring out the shape. The DNR will recycle all of this plastic when the Iowa State Fair is over. 8/14/2015 Photo by John Pemble

Pages