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.

John Pemble / IPR

River to River's "Home State View" series helps us understand how the presidential candidates are viewed as leaders in the states they call home. Host Ben Kieffer interviews journalists who have spent years covering the candidates. We get the little-known details about each hopeful's history. Click the "play" button to listen.

Kate Payne/IPR

This week, temporary barriers protecting downtown Davenport from the swollen Mississippi broke. River water rushed into businesses, forcing residents to flee. Davenport residents are encouraged to stay alert as flooding continues to threaten the city for at least the next month.


Sam Sanders is one of public radio’s freshest voices. Formerly a political reporter for NPR, Sanders now hosts "It’s Been a Minute," a radio show and podcast that explores the week’s biggest news stories alongside cultural interviews.


Students across the country and across the globe are stepping out of their classrooms to demand action against climate change, including decreasing carbon emissions, supporting alternative energy sources and implementing climate change curriculum into schools. 

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Former Vice President Joe Biden is visiting Iowa less than a week after making his 2020 presidential candidacy official, and Attorney General William Barr is testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. River to River host Ben Kieffer talks about these and other political developments of the week.

Guests include:

This program originally aired on August 6, 2018.

Long before more than two million women and allies gathered in Washington D.C. for the 2017 Women’s March, and before almost daily protests against the current presidential administration spalshed across national headlines, Americans were organizing and mobilizing acts of resistance, dating back to the very founding of the nation.

iowa capitol
John Pemble / IPR

This post was updated Friday, May 3, 2019 at 5:35 p.m.   

Iowa lawmakers wrapped up the 2019 legislative session Saturday afternoon. It was the third consecutive year with Republicans controlling the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the governor's office.

Read more to catch up on what high-profile legislation passed, what didn't, and what is still waiting for Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds' signature. 

Kevin Gill / Flickr

For the first time, NASA's Mars Insight Lander has measured and recorded a likely "marsquake."

On this News Buzz edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Bill Barnhart, Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Iowa, about what it means to have an "earthquake" on another planet.

US Air Force

Ten years ago, the publication of a national report on forensic science systems in the U.S. found some alarming problems that needed to be addressed. The report, "Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward," led to the creation of the Iowa State University based "Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence" (CSAFE). 


When Tim Cook took the reigns as CEO of Apple after the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, the company's future was uncertain and many were skeptical that Cook could fill the shoes of a tech icon like Jobs. In 2018, Apple became the world's first trillion dollar public company.

andy mckean
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

The longest serving Republican in the Iowa House announced Tuesday he would change his party affiliation and join the minority Democratic cacus. State Representative Andy McKean of Anamosa cited increasing discomfort with the GOP's agenda and his inability to support President Trump's re-election bid in 2020. The defection shrinks the Republican majority in the chamber. 

Fairchild Air Force Base

Whether it’s a technological debacle, an encounter with dangerous wildlife, or quicksand, fast thinking and expert advice can make all the difference when encountering a worst-case scenario. 

On this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer spoke with  New York Times best-selling authors of "The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook," which was recently released in a new edition.  


  • Dave Borgenicht- Author of  "The Worst-Case Scenario Handbook"
  • Josh Piven- Author of  "The Worst-Case Scenario Handbook"

Christine / Flickr


A bill that would raise the cost of owning solar panels has divided Iowa legislators.

In this episode of River to River, co-hosts Ben Kieffer and Katarina Sostaric talk with lawmakers about possible additional fees for solar customers.

Later, they discuss the debate over stricter laws governing drivers who want to use cell phones behind the wheel.

First half guests:


The city of Jesup's only grocery store is set to close next month, leaving more than 2,700 people without a primary resource for fresh food in their community. 

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer looks back on past conversations with presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin. Then, we hear highlights from a Q&A session with Kearns Goodwin at Hancher Auditorium after her Spring 2019 Levitt lecture about leadership in turbulent times.

KIEFFER: What can you tell us about the leadership qualities that Iowans should be looking for during this caucus season?

Charlie Neibergall

After more than a dozen years in Congress, Rep. Dave Loebsack has announced his retirement.


The U.S. Surgeon General says electronic cigarette use among young people is increasing at “epidemic proportions.” In Iowa, 2018 data shows that nine percent of high school students in the state used e-cigarettes. Nationally, there was a 78 percent rise in vaping among high school students from 2017 to 2018.

governor reynolds
John Pemble / IPR

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds established a flood recovery advisory board Monday and called on lawmakers to set aside state funding to address catastrophic flooding that hit southwest Iowa over a month ago.

“Sometimes it can take months to years for FEMA and other federal funding to be made available to Iowans impacted by the flood,” Reynolds said. “And we know that these communities and Iowans can’t afford to wait.”

Federal disaster aid for Iowa and other Midwest states is held up in the U.S. Senate as part of a larger relief package for hurricane damage in Puerto Rico.


Two years ago, an 18-inch bronze statue known as "Goddess of the Grapes" went missing from Sioux City. Now, after a multi-year mystery, Sioux City Art Center curator Todd Behrens will head to Waterloo to recover the sculpture, which was recently returned under unusual circumstances.

Official DHS photo by Jetta Disco.

President Donald Trump has signaled that he wants to get even tougher on immigration.

In this Politics Day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with political analysts, Jonathan Hassid of Iowa State University and Rene Rocha of the University of Iowa, about the politics of dealing with the surge of migrant families and children on the U.S. southern border. 

Jo Christian Oterhals

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with award-winning author Paul Greenberg about his new book, The Omega Principle, in which he explores the history, science, and business behind omega-3 fatty acids.

Greenberg is the James Beard Award-winning bestseller of Four Fish and American Catch, a regular contributor to The New York Times and is a Pew Fellow in marine conservation. 

John Pemble

A measure strengthening Iowa's animal cruelty laws, a proposal allowing over the counter birth control, and a bill to change the limit on the potency of medical marijuana have all made it through the second funnel week at the Iowa legislature, allowing the bills to be considered and possibly passed before the end of the session.

In this hour of River to River, Ben Kieffer and co-host Katarina Sostaric talk with several Iowa statehouse reporters about the bills that have made it through the latest legislative funnel, and which did not.

Panelists include:

Many of us don't give a second thought to the software that runs aspects of our everyday lives, from morning alarms or fitness apps on our phones, to the code directing a red eye flight out of Chicago O'hare. Behind the software are computer programmers who work line-by-line to make these things possible.

On this segment of River to River host Ben Kieffer examines the world of programmers with journalist Clive Thompson, author of "Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World."

Nick Youngson/Blue Diamond Gallary

Recently, President Trump put forward health care as one of the central issues of the 2020 presidential race.

On this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined by political scientists Donna Hoffman of the University of Northern Iowa and Jim McCormick of Iowa State University for analysis on why Congressional Republicans seem to have no appetite for the proposed Affordable Care Act overhaul. 

Other topics they cover during the show include: 

AP Photo/Pool, John Gaps III

In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court handed down a unanimous ruling in the case of Varnum v. Brien, making Iowa the third state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. 

On this episode of River to River, a look back at the historic decision 10 years later. 


AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Bills exploring medical marijuana and the definition of an "unborn person" are up for discussion at the Iowa Statehouse. 

During this episode of River to River, we take a look at a Senate bill that could further define criminal charges for a nonconsensual termination of pregnancy and discuss a House bill that could expand the program for medical cannabis in the state. 


When we're feeling down, what's the best way to cheer ourselves up? A new study from Iowa State University suggests that the key to happiness might lie in wishing others well.

On this "news buzz" edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer sits down with Douglas Gentile, professor of psychology at Iowa State University, to learn more about his recent study that put techniques to reduce anxiety and increase happiness to the test.

Pete Damiano

To many of us, the politics of today are unrecognizable compared to the politics of just a couple decades ago. On this episode of River to River, highlights from an event hosted on March 27 at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City looking at the future of U.S. politics ahead of 2020 from a variety of political and analytical perspectives. 

Lorie Shaull / Wikimedia Commmons

The attack on two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch that killed at least 50 and wounded 50 more was part of a trend that's likely to continue. 

J. Scott Applewhite

The women’s vote and the gender gap in voting have been the subject of intense analysis for decades.

In this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer talks with Kelly Winfrey of Iowa State University about her new book, “Understanding How Women Vote: Gender Identity and Political Choices.”