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BusRadio Controversy Ends Quickly, Quietly Along with Firm's Operations

Michael Brindley-Learning Curve
Nashua Telegraph
October 1, 2009

Before it could ever be broadcast over the speakers of Nashua’s school buses, BusRadio has signed off.

The company, based out of Massachusetts, reportedly ceased operations this week. BusRadio had promoted its free service of broadcasting “age-appropriate” music and advertising over school buses as safer for children than the alternative of commercial FM stations.

Critics, which included several child advocacy groups, argued that BusRadio was simply a means for selling targeted advertising to a captive audience of children.

For more than two years, the Nashua School District has been considering using the service on its school buses, but director of transportation David Rauseo said Tuesday that the district never followed through on contracting with the company, and it was never broadcast on school buses.

Obviously, the end of BusRadio ensures that will never happen.

Rauseo hadn’t heard the company shut down and hadn’t been in contact with anyone from BusRadio for several months. Rauseo said he spoke with a representative from BusRadio on Tuesday who confirmed they had ceased operations.

There was no answer at the company’s headquarters in Needham, Mass., on Tuesday.

Rauseo first brought the proposal to the Board of Education in April of 2007. The board voted in 2007 to give the district the authority to pursue a contract with the company, but Rauseo said other things came up that forced the issue to the back burner.

The proposal was revisited in the fall of 2008, when Rauseo met with several PTOs to get their thoughts.

“The results were really mixed,” he said. “That’s where it ended.”

Rauseo said he first brought the idea forward because of concerns raised by parents about the content of some local radio stations being played on buses. Some stations, such as JAM’N 94.5 and KISS 108 (which is now broadcast on 104.1), have been banned from school buses, he said.

By going with BusRadio, it would avoid “having to play DJ” on all of the buses, Rauseo had said.

Not everyone agreed it was a great idea.

The Boston-based 
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood had been one of the company’s most vocal and active opponents, contacting school districts considering the service and encouraging them to change their minds. Not surprisingly, news of the company’s demise was seen as a victory.

“It’s a great day for families and anybody who believes that schools should be commercial-free zones,” said Josh Golin, associate director of the group. “Ultimately it was the parent protests that kept the company from organizing and growing the way it had hoped.”

Golin said BusRadio claimed to be promoting safety on school buses, but it was really just a marketing engine.

“This was designed to sell the kids on school buses to advertisers,” he said. “Our concern is that it would make listening to targeted advertising compulsory.”

When the proposal first came up, Nashua Board of Education member Sandra Ziehm had raised concerns about whether the company would have access to student information. There wasn’t much public outcry in Nashua. Only one parent showed up for a public hearing on the proposal. She opposed it.

There would have been no cost to the district to install the service. The company would have installed the equipment on the buses at no charge. New broadcasts were uploaded to the buses each morning via wireless transmitters.

This summer, the Federal Communications Commission conducted an investigation of BusRadio, prompted by Golin’s organization.

A report issued in September found BusRadio was understating the amount of commercial content aired and said the company may have been manipulating children by using the on-air personalities to promote products and contests through the company’s Web site.

The FCC report was issued just weeks before BusRadio closed down, but it’s not clear whether there was any relationship between the two. There was no action taken against BusRadio because the FCC said it was outside its jurisdiction.

BusRadio differentiated its programming between elementary students and middle and high school students.

When the proposal first came up in Nashua, The Telegraph devoted an article to examining the content of the broadcasts.

It was found that during an hour of broadcast for middle and high school students, the phrase BusRadio or busradio.com was said 43 times. In the programming for elementary students, one of the commercials was for the new Bratz DVD.

In addition to commercials, there were also public service announcements encouraging kids to wear bike helmets and not to drop out of school.

Rauseo said it wasn’t just the programming that led him to pursue the service. The company would have also installed panic buttons and GPS systems on all of the buses at no charge, he said.

BusRadio had also claimed that its programming was proven as an effective way of curbing inappropriate behavior on school buses, but Rauseo said that wasn’t the primary reason he was interested in it.

Over the past couple years, the district has installed video cameras on about half of its 86 school buses to help improve behavior, Rauseo said.

There was a proposal to install audio recording equipment earlier this year, but Rauseo said that hasn’t moved forward yet.

The Learning Curve appears Thursdays in The Telegraph. Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.com.


 

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