Ban BusRadio

August 1, 2006

Ban BusRadio, Romney asked

By RORY SCHULER Staff Writer

TAUNTON -An Oregon-based activist group, Commercial Alert, has asked Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to stop BusRadio’s efforts to be heard on the Commonwealth’s public school buses.

"Public education in Massachusetts is a public trust," the group’s executive director, Gary Ruskin, wrote in a letter to Romney. "As governor, your job is to make absolutely sure that there is no abuse of the trust that parents put in the schools and in yourself."

The Taunton School District is pondering the installation of BusRadio devices on its fleet of more than 40 Bloom H&L Inc.-owned buses. The School Committee will get a recommendation Wednesday night from the administration whether to allow a contract with the Needham-based fledgling company.

"That trust has been threatened in recent years, as commercial forces have attempted to seize upon the schools for their own ends," Ruskin wrote. "These forces are trying to turn the compulsory school laws into a means of corralling a captive audience of impressionable children, for commercial gain. First it was Channel One, which brought television advertising into school classrooms in the guise of a daily ‘news’ show. Now it’s BusRadio, which literally is going to turn school buses into a means to deliver the captive ears of children to corporate advertisers."

Ryan Williams, a spokesman for Romney’s office, said the governor has "no comment" on BusRadio or Ruskin’s letter. He could not confirm Monday that the office got the letter.

Activist groups such as Commercial Alert and the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood have taken aim at BusRadio because it mixes commercials aimed at children with news and music.

Taunton Schools let BusRadio test the system on two buses for two months at the end of the school year. Only one parent weighed in on the programming, and her opinion was reportedly favorable. Members of the School Committee have not yet publicly supported or opposed the idea.

Commercial Alert was founded eight years ago. Ruskin said its mission is "to keep commercial culture in its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy."

He would like Romney to "expel BusRadio from every school in Massachusetts."

Several years ago, Ruskin helped elevate a nationwide protest against Channel One, a company his group says "delivers two minutes of advertising and 10 minutes of ‘news,’ banter and fluff to captive audiences of about 7.7 million students in 11,500 middle and high schools across the country."

His website,, says "Channel One doesn’t belong in the schools" because it contributes to a laundry list full of negative childhood behaviors.

Commercial Alert says Channel One "promotes tobacco to students, promotes violent entertainment and wastes school time and tax dollars spent on schools."

BusRadio President Steve Shulman, on the other hand, promises only socially responsible sponsors will be aired on school bus programming. Shulman did not return a call for comment by press time last night.

BusRadio promotes itself differently to potential advertisers than it does to parents and educators, Ruskin said.

"They talk about safety, ‘age appropriate’ music and DJ talk, among other things," Ruskin wrote. "It is pretty clear they have done their market research and know what parents and school administrators want to hear. The company’s pitch to potential advertisers is more candid.

"’BusRadio will take targeted student marketing to the next level,’ it enthuses," Ruskin said, quoting BusRadio’s own website. "Advertisers will get ‘a unique and effective way to reach the highly sought after teen and tween market.’"