Douglas County, Colorado

November 12, 2008
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Subject: Douglas County and the BusRadio controversy

My name is Jim Metrock and I run a nonprofit called Obligation, Inc. in Birmingham, AL. We research and report on companies like BusRadio that bring marketing into school districts. I write because BusRadio is desperately trying to get advertising into Colorado school buses. These are not print ads, but powerful audio commercials created for specific age groups.

BusRadio loans schools radio equipment in exchange for being able to advertise to a captive audience of young bus riders.

BusRadio has developed a distinctive radio show for high school students and another for middle school students. What upsets parents and teachers even more than that is BusRadio’s separate targeting of elementary schoolchildren. These children, some just out of kindergarten, are compelled to listen to a radio show with commercials specifically made for this innocent, impressionable audience.

Targeting elementary schoolchildren in this way is unprecedented, yet some Colorado districts have already agreed to this deal without any significant input from the public.

Since Douglas County is one of the few Colorado school districts with a contract with BusRadio our recent articles about BusRadio should disturb you.

Recently, Seminole County (FL) schools tried BusRadio but they have now removed all the equipment. The content of the programming was the main problem. You can see the local TV report on why parents wanted this company out of their children’s school buses. Viewing this video could save your school district much embarrassment in the future.

Our website documents BusRadio’s policy of playing "clean" songs from "dirty" artists. (Shawty Lo, Diddy, One Block Radius, Hinder for just a few.) This is not what most parents consider "age-appropriate."

You may have read Brent Bozell’s Sept. 5 article about BusRadio’s outrageous decision to advertise the vulgar remake of "90210" [warning: shocking images at this link on our site]. This is just one example of how BusRadio is age-inappropriate for schoolchildren.

In 2006 over 100 organizations and child advocates signed a letter asking companies to pledge not to advertise on BusRadio. The National PTA was one of the signers.

This summer Advertising Age reported on a survey of 1,200 PTA/PTO mothers by School Family Media, a marketing consulting group. BusRadio got a big, fat " F " on its report card. Only 16% of moms thought BusRadio’s form of advertising was "acceptable."

BusRadio’s modus operandi is to first approach the bus transportation director and win him or her over to their company’s side. Most heads of transportation won’t consider BusRadio, but some do, and then that person often becomes, in effect, an unpaid sales rep for the company. The transportation director then recommends the school district enter into a contract with BusRadio. The Board and Superintendent are rarely given much negative information about the company. This may have happened in your district or it may not have. The issue however deserves widespread public discussion and debate.

On September 10, the South Carolina State Board of Education voted to ban all advertising on school buses. BusRadio had hired five lobbyists to fight the will of the people of South Carolina, but they lost. It wasn’t even close. The vote was 13-2. The state of New York also outlaws BusRadio from all its public school buses. There are solid reasons for these actions.

And yet, parents of Colorado elementary schoolchildren are suppose to feel good about BusRadio on their child’s school bus?

On September 16, the Nashua Telegraph (NH) became the most recent newspaper to editorially oppose BusRadio.

The bottom line of course is safety. In 2006, Education Week published an article about the BusRadio controversy ("School Bus Radio Venture Raises Safety, Commercialism Concerns"). Let me quote at length because this directly involves the well-being of the children in your charge:

But one transportation official said encouraging radios on school buses goes against a trend toward restrictions on those radios since the National Transportation Safety Board weighed in on the matter several years ago.

In a 1995 incident in Fox River Grove, Ill., and a 2000 incident near Consauga, Tenn., trains collided with school buses as they drove over or were parked at a rail crossing, killing and injuring several children. In both cases, the federal safety board found that radios playing at the time of the accidents probably interfered with the drivers