March 8th, 2009

School Districts Should Pull Plug on BusRadio

By Editorial
The Denver Post

Children are bombarded with enough advertising. They don't need to hear Hannah Montana and cellphone ads on the bus.

Many parents rightly wish to filter at least a fraction of the rampant commercialization that bombards their children.

Yet these days, even on the way to and from school on their yellow buses, children in several Colorado districts are listening to BusRadio.

The Internet-radio program purports to “calm” children with “age appropriate” programming, according to The Post’s Carlos Illescas. What it actually does is subject its captive audiences to pop culture and advertisements for such things as toys, cable networks and cellphone service.

BusRadio is featured on several Colorado school-district buses, including in Aurora, Denver and Douglas County, and apparently was added with limited parent buy-in.

School districts should pull the plug on BusRadio, or at least let parents decide if they want their kids to ride on a taxpayer-subsidized bus listening to commercial ads.

We understand, and benefit from, advertising. We have nothing against toys and music and phones.

But children already are inundated with a bewildering mix of images and sounds that vie for their attention on a near-constant basis.

Denver Public Schools spokesman Alex Sanchez tells us that parents at one school in a pilot program last year “overwhelmingly” supported the “sanitized” BusRadio over the regular FM/AM broadcasts the district had been using.

We suggest another alternative: silence, or at least the natural noise of kids being kids.

We can think of a few things better to do on the bus than listen to commercial radio: Read, do homework, talk with friends, laugh, stare out the window, daydream — maybe even use your imagination.

Children shouldn’t be subjected to commercial broadcasting and advertising while they’re on taxpayer-funded buses. We’ve put up with the soda-pop logos in schools as a way to make money, but this just seems unnecessary.

The company’s marketing schtick ought to have been as easy to see as the brightest of yellow buses.

BusRadio provides the service to school districts for free, but gives districts a piece of the action — 5 percent of profits from all those ads bombarding kids.

“For us, it’s all about bus safety,” Sanchez maintains. “We want to make sure that the kids can be in their seats listening to age-appropriate music that keeps them in their seats.”

Then blast Mozart, not Hannah Montana. Has teeny-bopper rock ever calmed a child?

Meanwhile, DPS parents weren’t told directly of the program, but had to learn about it online.

Parents should be consulted on the program if districts are going to continue it. But it would be much simpler to just tell BusRadio — or any other commercial radio programming — to get off the bus.

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