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Listen up: No radio

HERE IS another shallow idea that reveals the depth of commercial predation on children. A start-up company in Needham called BusRadio wants to put commercial radio on school buses. Its scam runs similar to soda sponsorships of scoreboards and fast-food restaurants' sponsorships of food courts in high schools around the country. You hand us the children for our advertisers, we hand you the money.

Like junk-food companies that claim to be saviors by plugging holes in poverty-stricken school budgets, BusRadio says it will be the great pacifier that bus drivers can use to calm children. It proudly displays on its website a survey of 10 bus drivers who use the programming in Woburn, Arlington, and Wakefield. The drivers say the student noise level was slashed by more than half and their good-behavior ratings more than doubled.

BusRadio claims it is a ``behavioral tool" that ``is designed specifically to improve bus safety while providing the students with both age appropriate content and an entertaining ride to and from school."

Translated, that means narcotizing children for the commercials. BusRadio says that in a typical hour, it will have 44 minutes of music and news and only 8 minutes of advertising. Marketeers know that is all the time they need.

A study published this spring in the medical journal Pediatrics found that seventh- and eighth-graders who watched Channel One in their schools recalled a greater number of advertisements than news stories even though Channel One says it provides 10 minutes of news and only 2 minutes of advertising. The researchers from Washington State University and the University of Illinois-Urbana found that students who liked Channel One purchased more of the products advertised on it. Students more likely than not assumed that teachers had approved of the commercials.

In a related study also published this spring in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, researchers at Stanford University found that the more children watched television, the more requests they made of parents for advertised toys and junk food. Other studies have been proving aspects of that point for the last 30 years.

A message left on the voice mail of BusRadio co-founder Michael Yanoff was not returned. Its website is not shy. It said it ``will take targeted student marketing to the next level. Every morning and every afternoon on their way to and from school, children across the country will be listening to the dynamic programming of BusRadio, providing advertisers with a unique and effective way to reach the highly sought after teen and tween market."

Yanoff and BusRadio co founder Steven Shulman are known for injecting advertising into school time. For the last decade and a half, they have given millions of book covers free to schools. The covers are full of ads for junk food, soda, and expensive fashions. The ads are in students' faces every time they open their books. They have added to the daily advertising assault on our youth. On television alone, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that youths see 40,000 ads a year.

Even though there is some rebellion against this around the country, such as school systems kicking out soda machines, Yanoff and Shulman obviously figure that the school bus is no longer sacred. Their website says it is going to try to increase its current audience of about 100,000 students to 1 million by September 2007.

Some big systems are not buying, including the biggest one in BusRadio's home state. ``We don't want to blindly follow any kind of message we don't control," said Boston Public Schools spokesman Jonathan Palumbo. ``Our feeling is that radio could also be one more thing that incites kids and distracts the drivers." Wakefield, one of the systems quoted in BusRadio's good-behavior survey, told the Globe earlier this week that it is discontinuing the program.

We should discontinue this assault on youths. Whatever students currently do on school buses, whether that is talking, cramming for a test, or listening privately to music on headphones, let them do it. The last thing they or their parents need, in this era of obesity and materialism, is yet another ad for clothes or greasy burgers. BusRadio is advertised as the next pacifier. It is meant to paralyze children so that Madison Avenue can prey on them one more time.

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