July 3rd, 2009

Advertising Broadcasts on School Buses Run Into Static

By Carlos Illescas
The Denver Post

BusRadio, used in some metro districts, is under fire for its ads and choice of music.

Congress has ordered a Federal Communications Commission review of BusRadio, a controversial radio-programming system that targets kids riding on school buses — including some in the metro Denver area — with advertising and what some say is inappropriate music.

BusRadio sends music and commercials over the Internet to school district servers that forward the programming to buses, using wireless transmitters.

Douglas County, Denver and the Aurora school districts are among a handful in Colorado that use BusRadio.

Supporters say the radio content calms the kids on what can at times be a hectic bus ride.

But some parents say forcing their children to listen to commercials on the bus is akin to having their kids held hostage by corporate America. They also say the music is sometimes age-inappropriate.

Congress ordered the BusRadio review in May. The company had until Monday to address more than a dozen questions from the FCC, including how it determines what music is age-appropriate and how it deals with listeners’ requests to remove programming.

Aurora Public Schools spokeswoman Paula Hans said the district is entering the third year of a five-year contract with BusRadio. The district is taking a “wait and see” approach regarding the inquiry.

“We will abide by whatever the ruling is,” Hans said.

Denver Public Schools spokesman Alex Sanchez said the district is taking the same approach. He noted that there have been no problems with BusRadio and that it has helped to improve safety on the buses, the district’s main reason for receiving the service.

“For us, it has always been about safety, keeping kids in their seats and listening to age-appropriate music,” Sanchez said.

In the first month of the process, more than 1,200 people commented on the issue on the FCC website.

FCC spokesman David Fiske said public comments and questions to the company are part of the process. The review will then be sent to Congress, which will decide what — if anything — to do about BusRadio.

BusRadio officials defended their product, saying AM and FM radio stations that are on many more school buses don’t scrutinize their music and advertising near as much as BusRadio.

“We are working with the FCC to get all the information that they need,” BusRadio president Steve Shulman said. “BusRadio is looking forward to a favorable outcome.”

Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said her group requested that Congress initiate the review.

“CCFC believes that mandatory commercialized radio on school buses is not in the children’s best interest,” Linn said. “It bypasses parents to a captive audience of students.”

BusRadio is free to the school districts and is heard each day on more than 9,000 school buses in 24 states. The districts receive a small amount of money for allowing the music on their buses. There is different programming for elementary, middle and high school students.


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