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BusRadio proposal should be silenced

 

The Nashua Telegraph

September 16, 2008


One of the downsides of settling the contentious Nashua teachers contract earlier this year has finally reared its ugly head.

The administration now has enough time on its hands to once again consider installing BusRadio on some or all of the district's 86 school buses.

We thought that was a bad idea when it first came up in the spring of 2007, and we still believe it's a bad idea today.

BusRadio Inc., based in Needham, Mass., uses a Wi-Fi network to provide what it describes as "age-appropriate top-40 music" to school districts across the United States.

In a typical hour, students would hear 52 minutes of carefully screened music, four minutes of advertising and four minutes of public safety announcements all if it packaged for three different audiences: elementary, middle and high-school students.

Not only does the company install the necessary technology on school buses at no cost to school districts, but it also cuts them in for a small slice estimated for Nashua at $10,000 of the advertising revenue.

Currently, more than a million students in 24 states listen to BusRadio on a daily basis, according to the company's Web site (busradio.net).

Among the school districts that recently agreed to contract with BusRadio are the Rio Rancho Public Schools in New Mexico, Davidson County Public Schools in North Carolina and the Kenton and Boone county school districts in Kentucky.

In Nashua, the board of education actually voted to authorize the administration to enter into a contract with BusRadio in September of 2007.

But nothing ever materialized, transportation director David Rauseo told the school board last Monday night, in part because of more pressing district priorities, such as negotiating a new contract with the city's teachers.

"It gives us control of what's being played," he said. "There's really very little risk involved. And if we don't like it, we don't have to use it."

Rauseo told the board he would like to install the system on the district's school buses during the current school year.

So what would students hear?

Based on an hour-long demo provided to the school board two years ago, the elementary school version consisted of songs by artists such as Smashmouth, Tiffany and Hillary Duff, as well as a few tracks from "High School Musical."

During that 60-minute period, the phrase "BusRadio" or references to its Web site were mentioned 30 times; in the middle school and high school version, they were mentioned 43 times.

At the risk of oversimplifying, the debate comes down to providing children with an appropriate alternative to your typical AM/FM programming vs. exposing a captive audience to eight minutes of national sales pitches for their products.

A few states have outright bans against any commercial activity directed at students either on school property or while being transported to and from school.

The most recent was South Carolina, where the state board of education voted just last week to ban all advertising on school buses.

Now, to be clear, we don't believe for a moment that school administrators are looking to exploit the city's schoolchildren in return for a $10,000 annual payday. That would be silly.

We just disagree that the desire for more age-appropriate radio content trumps exposing the district's 8,500 bus-bound students to what amounts to district-sanctioned advertising.

As we wrote back in April 2007: "If bad morning radio is a problem on our school buses, then simply turn the music off, permanently. Subjecting our students to predatory and needless marketing at the hands of their educational system is not the answer."

Besides, don't most kids have iPods these days, anyway?


 

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