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.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, River to River host Ben Kieffer talks with United States Ambassador to China Terry Branstad about a range of topics, including sanctions on North Korea, fentanyl regulation, and trade.

"Iowa as an agriculture producing state has had significant success marketing our agriculture products in all of Asia, but in China in particular," Branstad says.

The former governor of Iowa also discusses South China Sea territorial disputes, cyber security, censorship, and human rights.

Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

With a budget proposal, debate over a path forward on immigration reform in the Senate, a senior White House staffer being accused of domestic violence, and continued allegations about President Trump's so-called non-relationship with Stormy Daniels—there's much to discuss this week in political news.

John S / Flickr

 THIS PROGRAM ORIGINALLY AIRED ON MAY 23, 2017

Anonymous sources have played a big role in the flurry of reporting and rapid-fire revelations surrounding the Trump administrations and investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and possible collusion with members of the Trump campaign.

John Pemble / IPR

Opioid use is a growing problem across the country, and Iowa is no exception. During this hour of River to River, we’ll hear about legislation being considered at the statehouse to curb issues created by the use of opioids in Iowa. 

Iowa Public Radio's Joyce Russell, Republican State Senator Dan Dawson, Republican State Representative Shannon Lundgren, Republican State Representative Dave Heaton, and Democratic State Representative Chuck Isenhart all join the conversation. 

Iowa Department of Transportation

This week, 70 vehicles crashed within seconds of each other near Ames during a snowstorm. On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with accident reconstruction coordinator, Sgt. Chris Starrett of the Iowa State Patrol, about the work of investigating a pile up.

Philippe Roos

National politics have put coal in the spotlight. On this River to River segment, Ben Kieffer talks with former coal miner, Nick Mullins, about his work and the misconceptions about coal country. They also discuss the dichotomy between jobs and the environment and the political motivations of mining communities.

Mullins is the author of the blog "The Thoughtful Coal Miner." He will speak at Iowa State University at 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 19. His talk is titled, “Coal, Climate and Environmental Backlash.”

Clay Masters / IPR

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Dennis Goldford, professor and chair of political science at Drake University and Dave Andersen, assistant professor of political science at Iowa State University about the week's political news. Stories include last-minute federal budget negotiations, dueling memos in the Russia probe and Iowa's midterm caucuses.

Damon Taylor

In two out the past five presidential elections, the candidate who became president was not the one most Americans voted for. In this River to River program, host Ben Kieffer explores why our founding fathers created the Electoral College to elect presidents instead of relying on the popular vote.

Guests are presidential historian Tim Walch and University of Iowa political scientist Cary Covington. They examine the historical rationale behind the Electoral College and efforts to change its influence.

John Pemble

It’s been a month since the 2018 legislative session began. On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with three statehouse reporters to discuss the many issues being debated at the capitol, including: changes to Iowa gun law, plans to get tough on so-called sanctuary cities, speed cameras getting the red light, and proposed budget cuts to Iowa’s judicial branch, state universities, and human services.

NASA/Van Allen Probes/Goddard Space Flight Center

60 years ago this week, the first U.S. satellite, Explorer One, launched into space. An instrument on the satellite, designed and built by University of Iowa physicist James Van Allen, discovered radiation belts around the Earth, a stunning discovery that made headlines worldwide.

On this River to River segment, Ben Kieffer talks with University of Iowa astrophysicist Allison Jaynes about how Van Allen’s discovery helps scientists today discover the dangerous areas for satellites and astronauts traveling in the near-Earth environment.

David Wilson / Wikimedia Commons

The annual Winter Dance Party in Clear Lake and the Surf Ballroom, which commemorates the anniversary of a plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, "the Big Bopper," and Richie Valens, is this weekend. This year, it will be a special celebration Saturday night.

This is the first year in a long time that Dean Snyder, whose family saved the Surf from being demolished, and Darryl Hensley, aka The Mad Hatter, who founded the Winter Dance Party, won't be in attendance. 

Grendelkhan / Wikimedia Commons

Proponents of solar energy in Iowa are worried about a proposal under study in both chambers of the legislature. They say it would deregulate the rate-making process for utility companies by allowing them to change rates for various classes of customers without receiving Iowa Utility Board approval. Former legislator Tyler Olson, now president of SiteGen Solar in Cedar Rapids, says that move would harm the state’s growing solar industry.

Derek Jensen

Traffic cameras are getting a red light from Iowa lawmakers as Republicans debate a total ban on automated traffic enforcement devices. During this hour of River to River Ben Kieffer is joined by Senator Brad Zahn, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, and Sergeant Paul Parizek of the Des Moines Police Department.  We also hear background and an update on an Iowa Supreme Court challenge to traffic camera in eastern Iowa from Gazette reporter Brian Morelli.

At a recent Iowa high school basketball game, the visiting team had to endure racist chants by rival students in the stands. During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with a school superintendent about how the immigration debate is impacting one of Iowa's most diverse communities. 

Martin Falbisoner/Wikimedia Commons

The government shutdown lasted three days. What did it accomplish, and what will be the way forward on immigration? 

During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Wayne Moyer, Rosenfield professor of political science at Grinnell College and Rachel Caufield, associate professor of political science at Drake University about the shutdown, the Russia investigation, Trump's visit to Davos, and Vice President Mike Pence's trip the Middle East. 

Joseph Gruber

Millennials will oust Baby Boomers as the largest voting bloc as early as 2020. Dave Andersen, assistant professor of political science at Iowa State University, joins host Ben Kieffer in this River to River segment to discuss how Millennial voters may change politics in the decades to come.

“They are going to shift the focus of how we talk about government,” Andersen says. “Millennials seem to want lower taxes, more government. They are really in favor of smart government that is more efficient. We haven’t really talked about that yet as a country.”

Michael Leland/IPR

John Naughton has been covering sports at the Des Moines Register for over 30 years. He has been to football, basketball, track and field, wrestling, baseball, and many other events across the state. On this Talk of Iowa, Host Charity Nebbe talks with Naughton about what the job has meant to him and what changes he has seen.

He says that it is important for sports reporters to remember that they are writing about real people that deserve respect. He says that one aspect of the work that has kept him doing it is that there are triumphant stories and interesting people.

State Capitol Ceiling
John Pemble / IPR

Iowa legislators have said that addressing the state's water quality is a priority.  During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Mary Skopec, who is executive director of Iowa's Lakeside Laboratory. She says that the problem with nutrient run-off from the state's 29 million acres of agricultural land is not the only issue to be addressed—it is a part of the problem. 

Dean Borg

This week, animal rescue organizations rushed to offer assistance to what appears to be a massive animal hoarding situation in eastern Iowa. Lonnie Viner of the Cedar Valley Humane Society says 898 live small animals came out of the Vinton home where the seizure was made.

Chapendra/Flickr

The World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association will classify video game addiction as a mental disorder in the 11th International Classification of Diseases.

Iowa State University Psychologist Doug Gentile says that to tell the difference between a healthy passion for gaming and a damaging addiction, it's best to consider when it becomes dysfunctional.

NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with presidential historian Tim Walch and political scientist Rachel Caufield to mark one year of Trump in office.  They examine how he has defied convention when compared with other modern presidents.

They examine themes including: accomplishments and public approval at the one year mark, how presidents deal with criticism, their relationship to their cabinets, and how they have justified and spoken of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Politics Day: Shutdowns and S---holes

Jan 18, 2018
reivax — / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode (cropping and lighting changes made)

A government shutdown looms at the end of this week, and continued debate over a word that President Trump said or did not say. On this politics day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Dave Anderson, assistant professor of political science at Iowa State University and Hans Hassell, assistant professor of political science at Cornell College.

Politics Day: Oprah for President?

Jan 16, 2018
Bill Ebbesen/Wikimedia Commons

In this new year, President Donald Trump has urged protesters to overthrow the Iranian government, threatened to blow up North Korea, and called for cuts to aid to the Palestinians.  On this River to River program, political scientists Dennis Goldford of Drake University and Jim McCormick of Iowa State University discuss Trump’s radical departure from traditional U.S. diplomacy.

Also, Oprah for president? 

McCormick says, "I kind of doubt it."

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch / — https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

The Islamic State's territory in Syria and Iraq has been reduced to a small fraction of what it was when ISIS declared its Caliphate back in 2014. But is the Islamic State really defeated?

On this River to River program, join host Ben Kieffer as he spends the hour with with former Air Force intelligence analyst Evan Renfro, an assistant professor of political science at University of Northern Iowa. Renfro gives his perspective on the threat from ISIS and other violent extremist groups.

Ben Kieffer / Iowa Public Radio

This program originally aired on May 18, 2017.

In Iowa, the craft beer industry has been booming. New breweries have been opening everywhere from Clear Lake to Iowa City to Des Moines. J. Wilson is minister of beer at the Iowa Brewers Guild.  He says the growth is a return to what the beer industry looked like before prohibition.

John Pemble / IPR

There was a spirit of optimism in the air as state lawmakers gaveled in the 2018 session. Opening day often brings talk of bipartisanship and cooperation, but that spirit never seems to last, especially in an election year.

Nevertheless, state Senator Pam Jochum, a Dubuque Democrat, struck a hopeful tone about the coming session, although her party is in the minority in a Senate controlled by Republicans 29 to 20. She says last session they made their voices heard.  

Iowa Flu Update

Jan 5, 2018
Melanie Hayes/Flickr

Four more Iowans died of the flu this week. Iowa Department of Public Health medical director Patricia Quinlisk says this is a particularly bad strain of influenza, especially for the elderly.

"The particular strain we’re seeing right now can hit anybody of any age, but it hits older people particularly hard. We also know that older people are just more at risk of getting the flu and getting serious illness of the flu because their immune systems just don’t work as well.”

Alan Light/Flickr

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s report on homelessness shows that for the first time in seven years, the number of Americans experiencing homelessness increased by about seven-tenths of a percent.

Iowa ranks among the states with the lowest rates of homelessness. Homelessness decreased by 10 percent last year in the state compared to 2016. That means 1,500 people and 1,256 families were homeless in Iowa.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer explores what it’s like to be homeless in Iowa, particularly during this cold snap.

Iowa capitol
John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Lawmakers gavel in for the 2018 legislative session Monday, January 8 in Des Moines at the statehouse. After several controversial bills made it through in 2017, Republicans remain in control of both chambers and the governor's office. What are their plans for the 2018 session?

Iowans should keep an eye on the statehouse with regard to tax reform, according to Radio Iowa's News Director Kay Henderson. 

Tim Evanson/Flickr

On this edition of River to River, we listen back to conversations from 2017 about milestones.

2017 marked the 60th anniversary of the launch of the world’s first artificial satellite: Sputnik 1. In October, Ben Kieffer spoke with longtime space scientist Don Gurnett to talk about how that momentous event instilled fear in America and marked the start of the space race with the Soviet Union. 

Gurnett is a physics and astronomy professor at the University of Iowa.

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