Ben Trefny

News Director

Ben handles daily operations in the news department, overseeing the editorial and sound engineering teams, producing the nightly news and culture show Crosscurrents, and managing the KALW Audio Academy training program. He earned a Masters degree in journalism from the University of Oregon in 2000 and got his start in public radio at NPR member station KLCC in Eugene. After freelancing for numerous magazines and working for various commercial and public radio programs, Ben joined KALW in 2004. He has helped the department win numerous regional and national awards for long- and short-form journalism. He has also helped train dozens of radio producers, many of whom work with him at KALW, today. Ben lives with his wife and twin children in San Francisco's Outer Sunset district, where Golden Gate Park meets Ocean Beach, and spends as much time as he can outside.

Ways to Connect

San Francisco Planning Department / resized and cropped.

San Francisco's lead housing policy planner Kearstin Dischinger speaks with KALW's Ben Trefny about the proposed Affordable Housing Bonus Program.

By Jacksonian. Cropped from original. Used under CC license:

Mayor Ed Lee was a big winner, yesterday, in San Francisco’s elections, for more reasons than just being voted into another term in office.

Ben Trefny

KALW’s Ben Trefny talks with Amy Farah Weiss about her candidacy for San Francisco Mayor.

Ben Trefny

Amy Farah Weiss is on the ballot as one of six candidates to be mayor of San Francisco. Weiss was born in Berkeley and raised in San Jose. She’s the daughter of union workers, and she’s the first generation in her family to go to college, earning a master’s degree in Organizational Development and Training from S.F. State in 2010. Amy Farah Weiss sat down with KALW’s Ben Trefny to talk about her campaign.

KALW's Ben Trefny sits down with Stuart Schuffman to talk about why he's running for mayor. 



San Franciscans will be making a big decision in a couple weeks about who will lead their city for the next four years. The incumbent, Mayor Ed Lee, is generally expected to win in an off-year election, with a historically low turnout. But there are five other candidates running. / Reed for Mayor


Reed Martin is running for mayor of San Francisco.

Martin has worked in the tech industry as a design thinker. He’s served on committees concerned with Market Street and city transit. And he has a plan to dedicate up to 90 million dollars of city budget money to funding ideas generated by the public.

Ingrid Taylar / /Flickr

There’s a big controversy developing west of the new mural at the site of the former Oakland Army Base. It’s a plan to develop the waterfront, in part, as a port where coal from Utah can be shipped overseas. 


We’re less than two weeks away from local elections, including a mayoral race in San Francisco. One of the candidates is educator, musician, and activist Francisco Herrera. KALW's Ben Trefny sat down with Herrera to talk about his candidacy.

Flickr user Lynn Friedman

KALW’s Ben Trefny talks one-on-one with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee about his candidacy for re-election.


San Francisco Bicycle Coalition flickr page

Since Ed Lee was elected mayor of San Francisco four years ago, the city’s economy has seen a radical turnaround. Unemployment has dropped from over eight percent to less than four percent. The city’s budget has grown bigger than ever – to nearly nine billion dollars a year.

Photo courtesy of Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch

The Black Panthers started in North Oakland in the fall of 1966. Their very visible public presence marked a change of pace during the Civil Rights movement - from giving out free breakfast to children to entering the California State Assembly with loaded rifles, shotguns and pistols.

Photo courtesy Cal_OES (Flickr)

It’s been 18 days since the Valley Fire ignited, and in some places the burning continues. But this week students returned to school, despite, in many cases, having no home to return to.

No training for in-home caregivers

Aug 26, 2015
Heidi de Marco/KHN

Born just a year apart, Oliver Massengale and his brother Charles grew up together. Now, in a two-story home in Compton, California, they are growing old together. But Charles Massengale, 71, can do little on his own.

The former tree trimmer has severe brain damage from a 30-foot fall, as well as dementia, diabetes and high blood pressure. Six years ago, Oliver took over as his brother’s full-time caregiver, paid about $10 an hour by the state.

It was not a job he was trained to do.

Christian Peacock / Forbes

In just over two decades, Academy of Art University in San Francisco has been transformed under President Elisa Stephens. It has expanded from just over 2,000 students to 16,000. Its revenues have also grown from around eight million dollars a year to about $300 million.

Some live performances are poetic -- and some aren’t. Imagine the most embarrassing moment of your life. (Really, the most humiliating thing that’s ever happened to you.) Now imagine standing on a stage in front of hundreds of strangers and telling them in detail about that time. That’s the concept behind "Mortified."

It’s a kind of tell-all performance art taking place in clubs across the U.S., where real people volunteer – in fact, they compete, and actually audition – to read from their personal, private childhood diaries. KALW's Ben Trefny stopped spoke with "Mortified"'s Bay Area producer, Scott Lifton, at the Make Out Room in San Francisco.


Flickr/Kenneth Lu

When the eastern span of the Bay Bridge was built, it was designed to be awe-inspiring. A shining tower rising high above the water, suspending one of the nation’s most significant thoroughfares.

It does all that, but massive cost overruns and continuing structural problems have many people deeply concerned about whether building such an innovative bridge was a good idea.

One of those people is Jaxon Van Derbeken, an investigative journalist with the San Francisco Chronicle. He sat down to talk with KALW’s Ben Trefny.

San Francisco is considered a national leader in pro-environmental policy, advocacy, and education. And while the City is a pioneer in recycling it may be getting tougher on street recyclers who scavenge from blue bins throughout the city.

Street recycling is a growing underground economy. And it is illegal. In 2012, Supervisor Christina Olague requested a hearing looking into how much money the City was losing because of scavengers, as well as ways to prevent the practice. Ben Trefny had the story.

This story by originally aired on March 29, 2012.

The KALW public radio news department is hiring a part-time digital strategist. This is a position for an independent contractor.

Dutch Treat Imaging Atelier

For the person accustomed to playing a factory model, a guitar from the hand of a skilled luthier is always a revelation. The tone, action, craftsmanship, and finish make playing such an instrument a unique pleasure.

Irving Sloane – Classic Guitar Construction

It used to be that if you wanted to learn how to make a guitar, you had to apprentice with a luthier. You’d find them in Europe, and you had almost no other option. That is, until New Yorker Irving Sloane wrote the book on high-end construction: Classic Guitar Construction: Diagrams, Photographs, and Step-By-Step Instructions.

Candlestick memory: Caroline Hickson

May 15, 2015
From Flickr user Kimberly Brown-Azzarello.

As a child in the 60’s, Caroline Hickson rode the bus with a friend all the way to Candlestick Park to watch Giants baseball games.

Eleven percent of Bay Area residents live with a disability. That includes developmental disabilities like autism, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome. Society makes accommodations for people with these conditions when they're young and in school, like mandated special needs education. But once they’ve aged out, life can become even more challenging. And in the U.S., history has not been kind.

When you think of a farmer, you may picture an old curmudgeon in overalls and straw hat squinting out at a bucolic pasture, chewing a piece of grass as he slaps wildly at flying pests. Well, that was the old breed of farmer.
Novella Carpenter is one of the new breed, and she's raising her rabbits, chickens, and goats right in the middle of Oakland. She blogs about it at Ghost Town Farm, and she just published a book: "Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer." KALW's Ben Trefny sat down with Novella Carpenter to ask her how exactly it all works.

Courtesy of

In 1983, after the U.S. Navy left San Francisco's Hunters Point Shipyard, a collective of artists moved into the abandoned buildings. Since then, the group has grown and grown until today, when more than 250 artists ply their trade in the former repair station. It is now America's largest artists' community.

Lacy Atkins // San Francisco Chronicle

Residents at the Hacienda Housing Complex in Richmond are finally able to relocate from the mold and rodent filled public housing units they’ve lived in for years. In a press conference held earlier this year, Richmond Mayor Tom Butts announced that the residents will receive federally funded vouchers to move into private housing while Hacienda goes through renovations. Hacienda is one of the most poorly maintained public housing complexes in a city with one of the worst housing agencies in the country.

Since its launch in 1998, Google has evolved from simple searches to near total internet domination. It owns the video-sharing site youtube; it launched its own Siri-like voice recognition app, Ok Google; and though the company has put development of it’s controversial Google Glass on hold, sources say that’s because it’s working on a more advanced product – Google Brain. I sat down with Alexis Channing-Sorkle, the first recipient of the still-in-beta product, to pick – or search – her brain. 

Some small businesses owners have warned that raising the minimum wage could shut them down, but Farley’s East owner Chris Hillyard says he’s willing to make the transition. He sat down with KALW’s Ben Trefny.

Chris Hillyard: So youre gonna have to pay a little bit more, but it’s for a better Oakland.

Click the audio player above to listen to the full story.


Dave Getzschman

Jennifer Piallat has worked in most every aspect of the restaurant industry – dishwasher, waitstaff, chef, manager – and those experiences have informed her decisions as owner of Zazie, a popular bistro in San Francisco's Cole Valley. Her employees receive a living wage, and benefits, and she's testified about her philosophies and process before the U.S. Department of Labor.

Jack Alley for The New York Times

Sharing economy companies like Uber and Lyft have become a powerful part of the economy. Now, some of the workers propelling that sector are organizing to ask for more from the companies that pay them. Drivers from both companies have filed a lawsuit -- they want to be made employees rather than contractors, and receive the benefits mandated by the state of California.

While it can be difficult for some San Francisco residents to find healthy food in their own neighborhood, you might be surprised to learn that the very people who pick our produce also have trouble finding healthy food to eat. Anthropologist and physician Seth Holmes spent five years in the fields living in labor camps, picking fruit, and crossing the border with migrant workers in order to learn more about what challenges they face. He documented his experiences in his book Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies to get a better insight into our food and health care system.