Bus Radio advertises itself as “an innovative media company that reaches over one million students every day on their bus ride to and from school.” The company negotiates exclusive agreements with school districts and transportation companies to fit school buses with custom digital radios that pipe in through Wifi specialized programming aimed at school age children.
Bus Radio’s website indicates that 10,000 school buses nationwide are fitted for Bus Radio programming. Might Bus Radio be coming soon to your child’s school bus? You may want to read some of the surprising information in this article before taking a stance on Bus Radio.
Bus Radio Program Content
Bus Radio sells its product with the contention that radio stations’ programming is not suitable for children, with inappropriate lyrics, adult-themed conversation, and commercials for adult audiences. Bus Radio purports to address these problems by providing on average 52 minutes per hour of age-appropriate music and programming targetting three distinct student groups: elementary, middle and high school.
Bus Radio claims to give kids the music they want minus the offensive lyrics (in other words, sanitized versions of songs with objectionable lyrics) plus commercials and public service announcements aimed at kids. By signing up on the site, parents can listen to samples of the daily program by age group. Bus Radio advertiases that an hour of its average programming includes 52 minutes of music and original programming, 4 minutes of public service announcements and 4 minutes of commericals.
Bus Radio also promotes its own website on the air- up to 30 times per hour- which does not differentiate content by age group.
Marketing to School Districts
Bus Radio markets its product by approaching Transportation Directors and using them to influence school superintendants, according to Obligations, Inc., an Alabama company that researches companies that market to children. Throughout most of this year, Bus Radio has played contests in which bus drivers were encouraged to call in and win $100 and $500 gift cards. When drivers choose not to play Bus Radio programming installed on their buses, Bus Radio issues compliance reports and pressures school transportation directors to encourage the drivers to play Bus Radio.
This heavy-handed marketing is enough to give pause to anyone contemplating Bus Radio’s true purpose.
Objections to Bus Radio
On December 11, 2008, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland notified the Parents Coalition of Montgomery County that it has terminated use of Bus Radio which it had been using on a trial basis. The Parents Coalition, a political action committee dedicated to improving the county’s schools, had opposed Bus Radio. This district’s consideration of Bus Radio brings to light many of the objections lodged nationwide against Bus Radio.
Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC) wrote to the Montgomery County School Superintendant yesterday, encouraging him to reconsider entering a contract with Bus Radio. CCFC pointed out that the sole purpose of Bus Radio is to take marketing to children to the next level by delivering captive audiences of children to the advertisers. CCFC explained,”BusRadio used to maintain a website for prospective advertisers. On that website, it boasted that it would “take targeted student marketing to the next level” and provide companies with a “captive audience” who, unlike listeners to commercial radio, are unable to change the station during ads. BusRadio also boasted that it would be able to target students better than traditional advertisers.”
CCFC described ads that it deemed inappropriate for children including one by Cellular aimed at elementary schoolers which mocks a child’s mother for being concerned about her cell phone bills. Another ad taken to task by the CCFC, also aimed at elementary school students, was an Answers.com ad that made fun of a student using books rather than the internet to do homework.
CCFC and the Parents Coalition cited a number of school districts that have banned or terminated relations with Bus Radio:
- Seminole County, Florida terminated its relationship with Bus Radio when Bus Radio refused to stop playing songs from albums with parental warnings for explicit lyrics and content.
- The New York State Board of Regents has banned Bus Radio.
- The South Carolina State Board of Education has banned Bus Radio.
Obligations has also contacted the Montgomery County Public Schools concerning Bus Radio. In its email, Obligations noted that in 2006 over 100 organizations including the National PTA wrote a letter asking certain large companies to pledge not to advertise on Bus Radio, while a Survey of 1200 PTO/PTA members by School Family Media graded Bus Radio “F.”
Public Safety and Bus Radio
Bus Radio goes against the public safety trend of removing or disabling speakers in driver’s compartments or banning radio altogether in school buses on public safety grounds. This trend stemmed from 2 bus accidents, one in 1995 and one in 2000, in which the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that playing a radio on the bus probably contributed to the accident. Several children were killed, and others injured, in those accidents. The NTSB recommended disabling speakers in the drivers comparents in the wake of that accident and some states took the further step of banning radio on school buses altogether.
Alternatives to Bus Radio
While Bus Radio claims that its programs help create a calm atmosphere on school buses, there are no studies backing up this contention. As for its claim to eliminate offensive music and banter, offense is apparently in the eyes of the beholder. Most children are exposed to some regular radio stations in their own family cars. Are the stations that school bus drivers listen to very different?
Assuming that the driver listens to music with vulgar lyrics or DJs whose banter is raunchy, does a school district need Bus Radio? Two very simple alternatives exist. One is forbidding radios on school buses, an option many people consider safest and one which eliminates advertising to children. Another option is to restrict radio on school buses to stations whose playlists do not include songs with vulgar lyrics and whose radio shows maintain acceptable boundaries.
Sources: http://www.busradio.net/; http://mcpsiafaudits.googlegroups.com/web/Gia1208.pdf?gda=jFjpwD0AAAAzjXcB6YFn60mqdYydXU0BWY1a2mrIApYD5RtYtx-chLa2n0rERmKHxmNaVDdjkPrlNv–OykrTYJH3lVGu2Z5&hl=en; http://mcpsiafaudits.googlegroups.com/web/Gia1208.pdf?gda=jFjpwD0AAAAzjXcB6Y; Fn60mqdYydXU0BWY1a2mrIApYD5RtYtx-chLa2n0rERmKHxmNaVDdjkPrlNv–OykrTYJH3lVGu2Z5&hl=en; http://www.commercialalert.org/news/archive/2006/09/school-bus-radio-venture-raises-safety-commercialism-concerns; http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/17/nyregion/17bus.html