BusRadio was an American company established in 2004, with the goal of providing several services to school buses, their drivers and passengers. It was envisioned that the service would transmit music, original programming, public service announcements (PSAs) and paid commercials to school children travelling on school buses in selected school districts. BusRadio was based in Needham, Massachusetts.
Programming was broadcast to the buses via a proprietary radio unit, which downloads BusRadio programming. Other features on the radio unit include GPS, driver panic buttons connected to local emergency services, and internal and external PA systems.
On September 28, 2009, BusRadio announced that they would be closing down. At its peak, Busradio enlisted up to 300 school districts and 10,000 buses in 24 states.
BusRadio produced four groups of eight hours of original programming—for elementary, middle and high school levels, plus a field trip service designed for mixed groups of all ages. The differing styles of audio programming was also intended to reduce rowdy behavior among students. At night, fresh programming for the next school day was downloaded to the BusRadio units.
In an average hour of BusRadio content, 52 minutes were original programming. The playlist was a mix of pop, rock, country music and urban contemporary songs, edited for the appropriate age groups. BusRadio's music standards claim to be more restrictive than traditional broadcast radio, in which they eliminate all inappropriate lyrics and subject matter to comply with their strict age-appropriateness guidelines.
Programming content, including music and safety messages, was customised for each school district. Districts were also given a say in what songs or messages should be included.
BusRadio conducted occasional contests; one example included Give A Gift, Get A Gift, a December 2007 Holiday contest where students were asked to describe which gift they were most excited to give and whom it was for. Two winners received laptop computers, and charities of their choice were given $200.
Advertising and public service announcements
BusRadio partnered with non-profit organizations to bring PSAs to kids and to reinforce the missions of these organizations. An average of four minutes of every hour of programming was devoted to PSAs and bus safety tips from these and other partners:
- City Year
- Students Against Destructive Decisions
- President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
- Take Pride in America
- Stand Up for Kids
- National Eating Disorders Association
- Afterschool Alliance
- Do Something
- Ad Council
- National Association of Pupil Transportation
- National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services
BusRadio included an average of four minutes per hour of paid commercials appropriate for the particular age group. The company encouraged its sponsors to deliver "positive, socially responsible" messages and the company actively sought partnerships with sports and activity-related companies, as well as companies that provide healthy food and drink alternatives. BusRadio claims advertisers for products contrary to the healthy lifestyle mission, such as fast food chains, were not welcome to advertise on BusRadio.
All messages were subject to the strict content guidelines developed by BusRadio’s independent content review board and were carefully reviewed for "age appropriate" content and subject matter.
Criticism and Opposition
Advocacy groups have charged that BusRadio exploits a captive audience, exposes children to unwanted advertising, broadcasts content inappropriate for children, and refuses to disclose information to parents about its advertisers and programming. BusRadio has been controversial among parents in some districts which have decided not to allow the service, such as Louisville, Kentucky. In part because of concerns about BusRadio, South Carolina State Senator Greg Ryberg introduced legislation in February 2008 that would ban advertising on school buses in the state.
In May 2009, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood requested Congress to examine the music and advertisements featured on BusRadio for their appropriateness and effect on students and bus drivers. In September 2009, the Federal Communications Commission released a report stating that BusRadio was not within FCC jurisdiction, and that the decision to use BusRadio was up to the local or state school boards.
Appropriateness of Music
The Birmingham, Alabama-based child advocacy group, Obligation, Inc., charges the company with playing songs from CDs which contain explicit lyrics (some marked with "Parental Advisory - Explicit Content" stickers) or songs which have themes which the group deems inappropriate for children. Obligation, Inc. objects to the promotion of these artists to children, even if the specific song chosen has no explicit lyrics, or explicit language has been removed.
Despite BusRadio's stating that they work exclusively with socially responsible sponsors, 46 advocacy groups sent a letter in September, 2006 urging national advertisers not to do business with BusRadio or Channel One News.
The National Parent-Teacher Association specifically objected to lack of control on the part of the school district over selection of music and advertisements, despite BusRadio expressly offering this type of control and personalization.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood also targeted Sigma Partners, BusRadio's venture capital firm. In a report, CCFC identified advertisements for Bratz, Answers.com, Cingular, and The WB Television Network, which contain direct or indirect messages deemed harmful to children.
Privacy and Secrecy
Some critics expressed concerns about BusRadio collecting personal information about children through its website. Others wanted more public disclosure and review of music playlists.
However, according to BusRadio, members of the website are not permitted to give information that could identify them in real life and are not allowed to make this information part of their website profile. All user-generated content is reviewed to ensure it does not contain any inappropriate language or personal information. The website conforms to COPPA regulations and instructs users on tips to ensure internet safety for children.
- Miners, Zach (2009-09-29). "School Bus Radio Program Plays Its Last Tune". US News & World Report. Retrieved 2009-10-01.
- Obligation - Bus Radio
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- commercialexploitation.org: "Turn off BusRadio"
- BusRadio - the nation's first student-driven radio network