BusRadio Bombs Out In Louisville

May 22, 2007
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From Jim Metrock:

The Jefferson County School Board in Louisville, KY chose not to consider BusRadio. There was no support for it. No board member supported the deal. The incoming superintendent was opposed. The public was opposed.

Obligation salutes the Jefferson County board for doing the right thing.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that there is no plan "in the foreseeable future" to revisit BusRadio.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Commercial Alert, and Center for a New American Dream all urged the board to refuse the BusRadio offer.

Partial credit for this victory for school kids goes to the president of BusRadio Steve Shulman. First, Mr. Shulman has a lousy product to sell. Second, he is a spectacularly awful salesman.

When a company is trying to make money off of schoolchildren, that company better be transparent. That company better provide much more information than the school board and public ask for. Mr. Shulman is a secretive man running a very secretive business. He told the Courier-Journal reporter that I was wrong when I stated Louisville would become the largest school district to sign up for BusRadio. When the reporter asked Mr. Shulman to name his larger school clients, he refused.

Shulman said Jefferson County would not be his company’s largest district. He said there are "several more" that are larger, but would not name the schools or locations.

When Mr. Shulman was asked about what companies advertise on BusRadio (of great interest to moms and dads and board members), Mr. Shulman elected not to share that information with Louisville residents. By not answering the simplest questions, Mr. Shulman gives the impression that he is embarrassed by his own company. He should be.

He also would not name specific advertisers, saying only that the commercials feature products from the entertainment, apparel, education, electronics and health industries.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

School board drops proposal for bus radios

Planned contract drew opposition from parents

By Antoinette Konz
akonz@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal

A proposal that would have put radios on all Jefferson County Public Schools buses this fall was shelved by the school board last night before it even came up for consideration.

Moments after the Board of Education meeting convened, Chairman Joe Hardesty announced that the board would not be voting on a contract with Massachusetts-based Bus Radio Inc. "now or in the foreseeable future." He said, "The board received a lot of input from the community, and based on what we heard, we decided this was not a contract we wanted to consider."

The contract would have allowed the national company to install and maintain radios on the buses and provide age-appropriate music, commercials and public-service announcements at no cost to the district.

The deal would have provided the district with up to $150,000 annually in shared advertising revenue, and the radios were to be equipped with Global Positioning System devices allowing a driver to alert authorities to the bus’s location in an emergency.

Several parents spoke against the plan at last night’s meeting, some bringing signs to show their opposition. Most decided to address the board even after the contract was tabled.

Paula Wolf, president of Jefferson County’s PTA, said if the radios had been installed, parents would not have had control over what their children were listening to.

"PTA opposes the exploitation of students through commercial operations that require students to view advertising or to study specific instructional programs as a condition of the school’s receiving a donation of money or loan of equipment," Wolf said.

"My child is targeted enough without being bombarded on the way to and from school."

Two child-advocacy groups — the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Obligation Inc. — also sent letters to the school board asking it to be cautious before agreeing to such a deal.

Under the proposed contract, each broadcast hour would have had about 44 minutes of music and news, eight minutes of advertising, six minutes of public-service announcements and two minutes of contests.

The company’s Web site on Sunday showed music for students ages 6-12 included artists such as Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry and Diddy; for students ages 13-17, it included artists such as Fergie, Akon and Omarion.

Cindy Weber, who has two children who ride the bus, said she was shocked when she found the lyrics to some of the songs and brought copies to board members.

Upon hearing how adamant the members were against the proposal, Weber said she questioned why it was even brought to them for their approval.

"I would have hoped that Superintendent (Stephen) Daeschner would have squelched it before it became public like this," she said. "It upsets me that the administration would even consider selling access to the minds of our children."

Incoming Superintendent Sheldon Berman, now chief of Hudson Public Schools in Massachusetts, has said his school board has a strict policy against advertisements, which he supports.

Hardesty said he thinks the GPS devices are a nice feature and something the board could consider in the future, separate from any contract with a bus radio company.

"Obviously, the GPS is a perk that this contract would have provided, but the board felt the perceived detriments of the radio on the bus outweighed the benefits of having a GPS system," he said.

Rick Caple, the district’s director of transportation, said in an earlier interview that he felt the contract was a "win-win situation." He said studies have shown that music can soothe kids and provide a calmer bus environment.

Caple was not available for comment after the meeting. Daeschner said he would not comment on the board’s decision, referring all comments to Hardesty.

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at (502) 582-4232.

 

Monday, May 21, 2007

School board shelves decision on bus radios, ads

By Antoinette Konz
akonz@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal

Jefferson County Public Schools students who ride the bus won’t find music in their ears after the school board shelved a decision on whether to allow a national bus radio company to place radios with advertising on board.

Board Chairman Joe Hardesty pulled the item off the agenda moments after the meeting began tonight. He said he doesn’t expect the issue to be brought up again in the forseeable future.

The three-year agreement had called for Massachusetts-based Bus Radio Inc. to install and maintain custom-designed radios and provide age-appropriate music, commercials and public-service announcements to Jefferson County’s 60,000 bused students — at no cost to the district.

The deal also would have provided JCPS with up to $150,000 annually in shared advertising revenue — enough to buy two new buses each year. And the radios would have been equipped with Global Positioning System devices that would have allowed a driver to press a button alerting authorities to the bus’s location in an emergency.

Several parents spoke against the plan at tonight’s meeting. Some brought signs to show their opposition.

Fewer than 2 percent of the district’s 1,000 buses have AM/FM radios, said Rick Caple, JCPS director of transportation. That’s compared with about 60 percent of all school buses in Kentucky. And studies have shown that music can help soothe students and provide a calmer environment, he said.

Officials with two national children’s advocacy groups asked the Jefferson County school board to be cautious before agreeing to such a deal.

Josh Golin, program manager for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, sent a letter to board members Friday, asking them to vote against the contract. His organization sent similar letters to every school superintendent in Massachusetts after the service was offered there.

"There is entirely too much advertising that is already aimed at children," said Golin, who is based just outside Boston. "The last thing they need is for their school to force them to listen to even more."

Incoming Jefferson County Superintendent Sheldon Berman, now chief of Hudson, Mass., Public Schools, said Friday that his school board has a strict policy against advertisements — a policy that he supports.

"Students are confronted with a lot of ads on television and radio, and I think we should preserve educational space as educational space," Berman said.

Bus Radio Inc. was launched at the start of the 2006-07 school year in 26 districts in 11 states, providing music and commercials for about 1,000 buses and 100,000 students. This fall, the radios will be in roughly 10,000 buses serving more than 1 million students, said Steve Shulman, president of Bus Radio Inc.

Under the proposed Jefferson County contract, each broadcast hour would have had about 44 minutes of music and news, eight minutes of advertising, six minutes of public-service announcements and two minutes of contests, according to the company’s Web site, www.busradio.com.

Elementary students would have heard commercials and music focused toward their age group, and the same would go for middle and high school students, Shulman said.

"We have a panel that determines what music and what ads are appropriate for each age level," he said, adding that the type of music his company plays includes "clean" Top 40 hits.

Jefferson County parents have mixed reactions to the proposal, with some predicting it would decrease behavioral problems while others said they didn’t feel comfortable with ads targeting their children.

"I just don’t think a school bus is an appropriate place to advertise," said Julie Newsome, whose two children ride the bus to Lowe Elementary School. "My kids like to read on their way to school, and there is no way they can do that with music blaring at them."

Michael Gaines, whose son rides the bus to Crosby Middle School, said he thinks the concept is a good idea.

"I think it would be a pleasant distraction," he said. "I think kids need to relax, and I would rather have my son listen to music that is monitored and deemed age-appropriate than to music that is not."

A glance at the company’s Web site yesterday showed the Top 10 songs for students ages 6-12 included artists such as Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry and Diddy. For students ages 13-17, the top songs included artists such as Fergie, Akon and Omarion.

Jim Metrock, president of Obligation Inc., a Birmingham, Ala.-based child advocacy organization, said he questions whether the music is really as clean as advertised by the company.

"Although Bus Radio promotes their ‘clean’ music as a major reason to sign up, their website plugs some of the raunchiest acts in music," Metrock wrote to the school board.

Metrock said last week Jefferson County would be a "big prize" for Bus Radio to add to its client roster.

"Your district will be their biggest catch so far," he wrote. "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."

Shulman said Jefferson County would not be his company’s largest district. He said there are "several more" that are larger, but would not name the schools or locations.

He also would not name specific advertisers, saying only that the commercials feature products from the entertainment, apparel, education, electronics and health industries. He said his company has more than 100,000 songs in its music library.

"We have the same goals as children’s advocacy groups," Shulman said. "We want the children to be safe. Right now, some of the music being played on the radio is not appropriate. We don’t play any music that comes with a parental advisory on it."

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at (502) 582-4232.