Ben Kieffer

River to River 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. 

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 30 years in public media.

Ben has taught courses at the University of Iowa on interviewing and radio news. He's a native of Cedar Falls and a graduate of the University of Iowa.

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On this “news buzz” edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer speaks with Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer for the Storm Lake Times Art Cullen about what he calls an existential crisis for his small town paper.

Later in the program, political scientist Chris Larimer speaks about Iowa holding out on mandatory stay at home orders, Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer has the latest on agriculture and a virtual egg hunt for the Easter weekend ahead.


Within hours of China lifting an 11-week lockdown on the central city of Wuhan early Wednesday, tens of thousands people had left the city by train and plane alone, according to local media reports.
Ng Han Guan / AP Photo

For authoritarian leaders around the world, the pandemic offers a convenient way to silence critics and consolidate power.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined by political scientists Wayne Moyer of Grinnell College and Evan Renfro of the University of Northern Iowa. Moyer and Renfro offer their analysis of Sen. Bernie Sanders dropping out of the presidential race, President Donald Trump threatening to cut U.S. funding for the World Health Organization and the authentic virus count in China, and why it matters.


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On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer speaks with renowned neuroscientist Dan Levitin about his new book "Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives." This book offers new insights on getting older and asks the overarching question: why do some people age better than others? It also debunks myths about memory, depression and chronic pain in old age.

Madeleine King/IPR file

We've received lots of questions about coronavirus, COVID-19, PPE, social distancing and what this means for us individually and for the economy. In fact, we've had many of the same questions as you. 

To help understand what we need to know, we've reached out to medical experts from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics about the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease. 

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The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped our lives. Social distancing has meant shutting down all kinds of events and gatherings, closing churches and stores and limiting restaurants to take-out only service. Many of us have been encouraged or required to work from home. Perhaps you are now a new at home worker, making that transition.

A record-high number of people applied for unemployment benefits last week as layoffs engulfed the United States in the face of a near-total economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus.
Jeff Chiu / AP Photo

The U.S. Department of Labor reported more than 9 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance over the past two weeks.

While millions of people are laid off, there’s another set of individuals who work in industries the nation collectively asked not to slow down. These are the essential workers. They ensure the hundreds of thousands of people social distancing, or sheltering in place, can continue to live their lives. 

Madeleine King / IPR File

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, workers are wondering what rights they have if (or when) their higher-ups request that they return to work. We asked Jennifer Sherer, director of the University of Iowa Labor Center about essential workers on the frontlines and evolving rules governing paid leave and unemployment benefits.

What kinds of questions have you been fielding at the Labor Center?
We’ve been hearing from workers whose concerns fall into three broad categories:

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Iowa and the small number of other states without any formal shelter-in-place order can now be counted on one hand. On this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined by reporters from across the Midwest to get a better idea of how COVID-19 is being handled in the region.

Alex Brandon / AP Photo

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined by political scientists Donna Hoffman and Peter Hanson to discuss the new Grinnell College National Poll. The research details how Americans view the long-term risk of COIVD-19, how the virus threatens the nation’s health and economy and President Donald Trump's potential general election matchup with former Vice President Joe Biden.


AP Photo

United States presidents have been tested by world crises going back to the days of George Washington – some have measured up better than others.

Two presidential historians join River to River host Ben Kieffer to talk about presidential leadership in trying times. Tim Walch, the retired director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, and Tim Naftali, clinical professor of history and public service at New York University and former director at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, examine presidential visions for survival and recovery in times of crisis throughout U.S. history.

Iowa Labor Collection / State Historical Society of Iowa Library-Iowa City

This program originally aired on Septmeber 5, 2019.

Since the late 1970s, the Iowa Labor History Oral Project has been collecting interviews from the working class across Iowa. They are collecting history from the ground up, as opposed to leaders or people with power.

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Guest host Charity Nebbe speaks with several mental health experts about how to navigate mental health in times of crisis. They offer tips and share information about mental health resources that are available in Iowa.

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While much of our economy has ground to a halt, grocery store operations are ramping up amid the coronavirus pandemic. There is not a food shortage. Rather, grocers and markets are trying to meet increased demand and have had difficulties stocking shelves in a timely manner as supply chains have slowed. Additionally, stores have adjusted hours and are taking precautions to create a safe environment for shoppers and workers.

John Pemble/IPR

In the spirit of social distancing, lawmakers are keeping their distance from the Iowa Statehouse, which could impact what's accomplished during the 2020 legislative session.


On this segment of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined by Iowa Public Radio news director Michael Leland and IPR reporters for an update on the impact of COVID-19 and recovery efforts within schools, prisons, hospitals and elsewhere across the state.

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On this “news buzz” edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer speaks with Iowa State University economist Chad Hart and outlines the impact COVID-19 is likely to have on the Iowa economy.

Later in the program, IPR's Eastern Iowa reporter Kate Payne shares concerns over prison safety with the community spread of COVID-19 and Superintendent of the Storm Lake School System, Stacy Cole, describes the enormous challenges public schools are facing with closures lasting at least 4 weeks.

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Large parts of our economy have nearly ground to a halt. On this episode of River to River, Ben Kieffer speaks with several Iowans, from a variety of industries, about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their jobs, businesses and lives.

Evan Vucci / AP Photo

On this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with political scientists Rachel Caufield and Jim McCormick about how the country's leaders are handling the COVID-19 outbreak. 

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On this segment of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined by author and biologist Neil Shubin.

Matthew Putney/AP

On this segment of River to River, U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, who represents Iowa's 3rd Congressional District, joins host Ben Kieffer live to address concerns surrounding COVID-19 and its economic impact on Iowans and Iowa businesses.

John Pemble / IPR

Iowa's legislative session will be suspended for at least 30 days as a means to help limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Katarina Sostaric, IPR's statehouse reporter, speaks with River to River host Ben Kieffer on the latest news from the capitol. 

Evan Vucci / AP Photo

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing lives dramatically, at least temporarily.

On this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer speaks with Edith Parker, Dean of the University of Iowa College of Public Health, and Mike Pentella, director of the State Hygienic Public Health Laboratory in Coralville, about the quickly emerging public health emergency.

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Emergencies can bring out the best, and unfortunately, also the worst in people.

On this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller about price gouging and other scams related to the COVID-19 pandemic. IPR’s health reporter Natalie Krebs joins the program to discuss closures of all kinds, hospital restrictions and how suspected cases are being treated.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo

On this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined by political scientists Wayne Moyer of Grinnell College and Megan Goldberg of Cornell College, for analysis of the latest primary results and the state of the contest between Biden and Sanders.

Listeners voice their reasons for supporting certain candidates, and they discuss how COVID-19 is posing political challenges across the world.   


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Homo erectus evolved around 2 million years ago, and was the first known human species to walk fully upright.

After Homo erectus dispersed from Africa, the species colonized the ancient world.  Then, about 400,000 years ago, Homo erectus essentially vanished, with the lone exception of an Indonesian island.

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River to River host Ben Kieffer speaks with Marc Schneider of Iowa State University's Center for Industrial Research and Service to discuss how the  COVID-19 outbreak has impacted Iowa's trade economy.


  • Marc Schneider, project manager at Iowa State University’s Center for Industrial Research and Service

GegenWind Photo / Unsplash

Let’s hop in the time machine, going back, way back, to a time before humans – traveling about three billion years to when Earth was a “water world."

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined by Ben Johnson to discuss his field work on exposed ancient, ocean crust in a remote part of Western Australia. 

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On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer and IPR state government reporter Katarina Sostaric talk with Iowa lawmakers about childcare legislation being debated at the statehouse.

Michelle Brooke, owner and director of Mrs. Brooke’s Curious Kids Program, shares her experience teaming up with Lee Container to provide childcare for that business and the challenges she sees in the future for childcare in Iowa.  

Charlie Neibergall / AP

Centerville native Simon Estes, known for his acclaimed opera performances and philanthropic work, has toured opera houses across the globe, has sung for kings and queens and has raised more than $220,000 to date in scholarships for Iowans in 54 counties.

Estes, who is the F. Wendell Miller Distinguished Artist-in-Residence in Iowa State University’s music and theatre departments, will see his career immortalized further with the renaming of Music Hall at Iowa State University to the Simon Estes Music Hall.

Ramiz Dedaković / Unspalsh

When it comes to images in the media, it’s as much about what isn’t said and shown, as it is about what’s depicted.

This idea of “invisibility” sets the foundation for much of Barbie Zelizer’s work. Zelizer is the Raymond Williams Professor of Communication and director of the Center for Media at Risk at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also a former journalist.