May 22nd, 2007

School-Bus Medley Falls on Deaf Ears

By Bob Hill
Louisville Courier-Journal

As of this writing I have no idea if the Jefferson County School Board last night passed, rejected or decided to spend more time studying a proposal from Bus Radio Inc. to add news, music, contests, public-service announcements and commercials to its students’ big-yellow-school-bus experience.

It is a growing national trend—soon to be downloaded upon 1 million students in 10,000 buses. I hope it passed here to great applause. It’s about time responsible adults did something to fill those critical getting-to-and-from-school periods when our children can be without commercials.

It’s a grave national crisis. Our children can see and hear commercials aimed at them before school, after school and during school. Saturday mornings are a special treat for our little consumers with 30-minute commercials disguised as entertainment.

Weekday afternoons and evenings children again are massaged with television and computer advertising. Yet there it was—that yawning, school-bus electronic chasm when young people without access to proper ear gear could be denied eight minutes of commercials per hour. All they would be left with were themselves, possibly opportunities for wider friendship, shared experiences and frank discussion.

Disgusting.

Yeah, sure, I know. We’re talking school buses, inside of which social and educational opportunities are limited. Both our children rode big, yellow electronics-free school buses. Its passengers included a few less-than-compliant scholars who only interacted in negative harmony with the driver, a patient-to-a-point guy named Smitty who never did sing GAP commercials.

Bus Radio Inc.—even the name sounds like a Saturday Night Live parody—has assured school officials that students would only hear carefully censored, age-appropriate music. Which given the music scene these days could be part of the problem. Mozart, Chopin or Bach do not seem to be school-bus options.

Speaking of SNL, maybe the answer is to have bus music come with singing history lessons; theme-song banality that can live in the little ones’ heads for say, oh, 40 years … Davey … Davey … Crockett.

The entire music-on-the-bus thing also comes with some built-in perils. Someone out there will soon be lobbying that at least one song per day begin with “what a friend we have in Jesus.” Other groups to be heard from could include environmentalists, political action committees, child advocacy groups and Nike.

If the news programs listed on the Bus Radio Web site are accurate, the news the older students will be hearing includes the grim results of “American Idol” and National Karaoke Week. They apparently will be kept safely away from real-world events in Iraq, Afghanistan and Washington. So what would be the harm in allowing the older students—the news shows are divided by age groups—hear a little bit of what they might face in a few years?

Commercial radio in buses is part of a national movement to free taxpayers of their obligations. It’s the new American way; build casinos, lease toll roads to foreign companies, construct toll bridges, allow companies to stick radios on school buses. Jefferson County may receive up to $150,000 a year in shared ad revenue—worth two new buses a year—and perhaps an inside shot at hosting National Karaoke Month.

The Bus Radio offer also comes with the obligatory sales safety carrot; GPS in every bus so drivers can alert the home office in an emergency—and an “off” switch for bad music.

The kids will be hard-pressed to know the difference.

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