Cobb County Students Tell On BusRadio

June 11, 2009
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Laura Armstrong: What’s playing on your children’s school bus radio?

Published: 04/26/2009

By Laura Armstrong
Columnist

Has your second-grader come home begging for a Cingular cell phone? Are the kids asking you to "check out" a racy new sitcom or Web site? Do they know the lyrics to rap songs, even when your family doesn’t condone that music?

Well then, Cobb must have Bus Radio.

Surpriiiiise!

"Everybody knows about it," offered Skyler Hanson, my highly observant, eighth-grade niece. Everybody, that is, except the parents. Bus Radio, a controversial Massachusetts-based service that contracted with Cobb schools at some point after it debuted in 2006, targets children on school busses up to ninety minutes each day.

I found out about it for the first time last week from a children’s advocate in Birmingham, Jim Metrock. His organization, Obligation, Inc., was founded in the 90s to remind area businesses they have a responsibility to children. Jim’s memo, sounding the alarm on commercialism forced upon our children, reached me via a PTA member and immediately set off my mom-radar.

At the bus stop, I confirmed with our elementary driver that she has Bus Radio. She rolled her eyes and motioned, but despite my giving her a business card, a note and Metrock’s memo, she didn’t call me with input. My guess is she doesn’t want to get in trouble, and I don’t blame her, though wouldn’t it be great to hear what Cobb’s wonderful, caring drivers (many are moms) think about it?

I queried my first-grade neighbor, Meagan.

"What’s playing on the bus, sweetie?"

She scrunched up her face, looked sheepishly at her mom and replied, "It’s gangster music, Mommy. But it’s inappropriate, I know."

"What else, Megan?" her mom asked.

"Commercials for Nintendo and stuff," she answered innocently, still worried about the gangster music.

This is not good.

Skyler, who’s 13 going on 23, told me her bus doesn’t play it, but most do, and she’s heard it many times. The rap music, she says, has profanity bleeped, "but all the kids just sing the words anyway." And if the sixth-graders don’t understand it, the older kids are happy to explain.

"Everyone talks about it. They prank call the DJs during school and on the bus," she added, astutely observing they have to get permission slips signed to watch a PG movie at school but the "suggestive" music plays on Bus Radio everyday, regardless.

Former school board member Lindsey Tippins told me he remembers Bus Radio being approved because it was "revenue-positive" but opined, "If questionable music is played, it should be gone." He doesn’t recall any parent complaints.

Current board Chairman John Abraham, the only elected official to my knowledge who’s taken time to ride a bus in mid-August heat, e-mailed that he plans to review the initial decision on Bus Radio and whether parents have complained about content. He also plans to ride again and hear for himself.

There is so much more to this issue. You must see www.obligation.org as well as www.busradio.com. Talk to your children. Are your family standards being undermined by Bus Radio?

The school board needs to hear from you.