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Controversial BusRadio Pulls the Plug

Toni Fitzgerald
Media Life Magazine
September 30, 2009

After three controversy-filled years, BusRadio may be out of gas.

The company, which provides commercial programming for school buses in 160 school districts across the country, has shut down, according to the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy group that's been a longtime and vocal opponent of BusRadio.

Josh Golin, associate director at the CCFC, said that the group received phone calls from drivers across the country on Monday saying that their BusRadio buttons, used to connect to the company's WiFi network, no longer worked. They were told that BusRadio had shut down.

When reached by Media Life yesterday morning, BusRadio CEO Michael Yanoff did not confirm or deny the report.

"We're not making any comments," Yanoff said.

He said the company will be sending out a press release sometime this week to address the issue.

The apparent shuttering comes three weeks after the Federal Communications Commission released a report addressing commercial radio broadcasts on school buses, following a congressional request to investigate the issue.

The FCC study found thatBusRadio, the only commercial broadcaster on school buses, had disguised commercial content as editorial and exposed kids to more commercial content than the four-minutes-per-hourlimit it promised parents.

But the agency concluded thatthe issue was not one for the federal government to address,essentially punting it back tolocal school districts. It reasoned that local authorities were better equipped to deal with the issue, since each school district has its own special concerns, and urged concerned parents to speak up.

At the time, BusRadio and its opponents both claimed a victory.

Yanoff told Media Life, "We believe it lays to rest any remaining controversy that surrounded our program and opens the door to many years of growth."

But CCFC's Grolin thinks the stink raised by his group and parents across the country may have helped lead to BusRadio's demise.

"What happened was they were unable to get into schools because of parental protests at the local level. Without a really large audience, they were unable to attract significant advertisers," Grolin says.

The BusRadio controversy underlines how sensitive the issue of school advertising has become. On the one hand, parents object to exposing their kids to unscreened messages and have become increasingly organized in their opposition, through the internet and groups like CCFC.

But on the other hand, school districts are pinched for money and looking for nontraditional ways to account for budget shortfalls. Programs like BusRadio, which required no upfront fee from the school districts and cut them in on a portion of the ad revenue, fulfill that need.

The BusRadio fuss merely highlighted just how organized these anti-school-advertising groups have become.

"Two decades ago, Yanoff and [BusRadio president] Steve Shulman founded Cover Concepts, which advertised on book covers," Golin says. "There was no backlash. There wasn't an awareness of this stuff back then. I think they were kind of taken aback at how the environment had changed."

And now that BusRadio has apparently been turned off, the CCFC is readying for its next target: MilkMedia, which advertises on milk cartons sold at schools.

"I don't think parents know about it, the schools probably aren't even aware of it," Golin says. "We're going to start making some noise."


 

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