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BusRadio needs parental oversight, school driver says



By Erika Gonzalez
Rocky Mountain News

October 22, 2007

A bus driver for Littleton Public Schools wants parents to have more say over a new radio service featuring songs that he says encourage immoral behavior.

"Nobody can hear it but the driver and the kids," said Dan Kenny about Bus Radio, which was installed on some Littleton district buses roughly six weeks ago. "They played Stronger by Kanye West, and I was thinking this is not an appropriate song for kindergartners or fifth graders."

Although Bus Radio carried a "clean" version of Stronger, Kenny said it was still easy to determine which profane words were being disguised. He also objected to Timbaland's The Way I Are, which refers to stripping.

The two artists have since been removed, but other songs with objectionable content have since popped up, Kenny said.

Bus Radio officials did not return calls Monday.

On its Web site, Bus Radio promotes itself as a more "age-appropriate" alternative to what's played on typical AM/FM stations. The company's playlists are segmented by age group and include such kid-friendly performers as Hannah Montana and The Cheetah Girls as well as more adult-oriented acts such as Nickelback and Fergie.

That content, according to a recent New York Times article, is screened by a panel of experts which includes a school superintendent and a child pyschologist. On its Web site, Bus Radio says it also gives school officials the ability to screen content daily.

Kenny's concerns about certain artists led Littleton Public Schools officials to form a committee to review Bus Radio content.

"Bus Radio has agreed to remove artists that we don't feel are appropriate, and they're not playing anything that requires editing," said district spokeswoman Diane Leiker, who noted that the district's drivers are not required to play Bus Radio.

According to Kenny, drivers were required to play Bus Radio until earlier this month, when he went to a local news radio station and voiced his complaints.

Littleton bus drivers are "very upset," Kenny said. Listeing to the radio on the bus can be reward for children, but Littleton drivers don't trust the contents of Bus Radio, he said.

"We're people in positions of trust," he said. "We should be playing songs for kids about how to treat people, make each other happy not songs that demean women," he said.

Bus Radio should list its playlists on its Web site for parents, Kenny said.

"Parents should know and they should decide whether we stay with this company or not," he added.

In addition to free music programming, Bus Radio carries public service announcements, contests and commercials for such kid-centric offerings as the Cartoon Network.

School districts that sign up for Bus Radio receive custom-designed radios that include a global positioning satellite system, public announcement equipment and an emergency notification switch.

But critics say the company is less concerned about safety than it is in delivering a much-sought after market to advertisers.

"It is a scam using bus safety as a smokescreen to get advertising in front of a captive audience of schoolchildren," said Jim Metrock, president of Obligation Inc., a non-profit that has lobbied against companies that place advertising in schools.

Bus Radio runs about eight minutes of advertising for every hour-long segment of programming.

In May, School board officials in Louisville, Kentucky shelved a plan to install the service after encountering widespread community opposition. But Bus Radio is making major in-roads in metro-area schools.

In addition to the Littleton district, Douglas County and Aurora Public Schools installed the service this school year and officials from the districts say they've received no complaints. Jefferson County and Denver Public Schools are also considering adding the free programming.



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