BusRadio May Land A Big One

May 18, 2007

Is Louisville ready for Steve "Wu-Tang" Shulman’s BusRadio?


BusRadio needs a break. They may get it if they convince the Jefferson County school district in Louisville, KY to sign on the dotted line this coming Monday, May 21. Obligation sent the following email to board members who have email addresses on the district’s website. Hopefully, this can be of value to other school boards considering the BusRadio deal.


Dear Jefferson County Board members,

I run a small nonprofit called Obligation in Birmingham, AL. I am a former businessman that believes in free enterprise and in advertising, but I believe there are common sense limits when it comes to marketing to young people. BusRadio is simply an appalling concept and a potentially dangerous one as well.

Advertisers will love the idea of forcing impressionable young people to listen to their ads during their ride to and from school. You can’t get a better situation than that if you are trying to sell you product or service to teens, tweens or elementary schoolchildren.

You can read our articles about BusRadio at http://obligation.org/busradiohome.php. You will notice that although BusRadio promotes their "clean" music as a major reason to sign up, their website plugs some of the raunchiest acts in music.


I’ve gone to Boston and met with the president of BusRadio and I know this company very well. Their goal is to get your students to visit their website. That is where the money is. That is where they will get information about your students. The website, and not the bus, will ultimately generate the largest part of BusRadio’s ad revenue. That is why the content of their website should be of great importance to you as a board member.

Our organization would be reporting on BusRadio’s radio content, as well as their web content, but they have refused our requests to publish their playlists on their website. That should raise a red flag for your board. I am sure BusRadio’s sales person or even CEO Steve Shulman has been in contact with each of you. I would encourage you to ask for a list of the songs played on buses for the last month and also to ask them to begin publishing the playlist on their website for the benefit of school districts and parents. If they hesitate to accommodate your modest request, I think that says something.

I believe BusRadio will make your buses less safe. I know what their marketing department says, but what they don’t tell you is they are not only targeting the children riding buses but also the bus drivers. They have run contests where drivers can win prizes. Since their HQ is near Boston they have dangled the prospect of free Red Sox tickets for lucky drivers. Targeting drivers makes sense from their viewpoint. They HAVE to make drivers loyal to THEIR company. A driver can turn off BusRadio and if that happens ad revenue is adversely affected. The bus driver is the linchpin to BusRadio’s financial success. This will be a unique vendor/school employee relationship. School administrators will have to closely monitor what drivers are being offered and if it is appropriate or not; if it violates Kentucky’s ethics laws or not. This is just one of the headaches you may possibly have with a BusRadio contract.

You don’t want your drivers straining to hear a contest offer aimed at them. A driver’s loyalty is to the school district that employs him or her, not to a school vendor. Heaven forbid if there is a bus accident in a bus with the controversial BusRadio program playing. If I was a parent of a child in that bus, I would demand the full transcript and tape of what was being blared out of the speakers before the accident. What was the sound level? Who set the sound level? The driver or is there a default sound level set by this out-of-state company? Were the DJs addressing the bus driver?

Radio commercials, especially those made specifically for young people on a noisy school bus, have to be distinctive. They have to use various techniques and special audio effects to stand out and get the attention of the target audience. The ads have to be made MORE interesting than talking with your friend – and advertisers know how to do that. Sudden loud noises, strange sounds, hilarious sound effects, etc. can be utilized to grab ears. These commercials of course will not only get the attention of students but also the drivers. Drivers may find themselves fighting to NOT listen to the crazy antics of Mat and Lucia the BusRadio DJs and the commercials.

There is no need to sign up for BusRadio. They are offering you a chance at a little bit of money. Here’s some fun: Ask them for the formula that will determine how much ad revenue schools receive. You will get a lot of mumbo jumbo but there is no formula they can actually hand you. The last I heard, their idea of revenue sharing is a "pie-in-sky-trust-me" formula in their heads. They say it will depend on not only the number of students hearing the ads but how long the school has been with BusRadio. That means your district won’t have a clue as to the amount of money you are due. You will have to take their word on what you are owed.

In business there is an old saying: Don’t attempt anything if you can’t measure success. If you cannot calculate independently the amount of money you are due from BusRadio, then pass. Forget the content problems and the potential for decreasing the safety of your buses, from a financial angle, this isn’t smart.

Make no mistake. Louisville is the BIG prize for Mr. Shulman and his backers at Sigma Partners. Your district will be their biggest catch so far. BusRadio is very controversial. If you decide to experiment with your buses, this will be news. Your experience with this company will be looked at by other school districts and the public. You don’t need the spotlight that comes with this deal. This is one horse that needs to stay behind the gate.

It appears to me that the majority of schools that are being offered BusRadio are rejecting it. All you have to do is "google" "BusRadio" to see that. If I can be of any help to you or your board please email me or call me at 205-822-0080.

Whatever your decision, I salute you and all school board members who selflessly perform an often thankless job that benefits so many young people and these young people will never know your names. As adults these students will thank their favorite teachers for making a difference in their lives, but they won’t think about the long hours school board members spent away from their families making tough decisions like this one. Who else but someone devoted to other people’s children would read such a long, unsolicited email from a meddling out-of-towner?

Much Obliged,

Jim Metrock
Obligation, Inc.
P. O. Box 26270
707 Paden Drive
Birmingham, AL 35226
Promoting what helps children. changing what harms them.