“Too much, magic BusRadio? Battle fought over school bus ads”

July 23, 2009


Too much, magic BusRadio? Battle fought over school bus ads

BusRadio: a nice, wholesome broadcast service for school kids, or a plot to take "targeted student marketing to the next level"? The FCC and Congress will decide.

By Matthew Lasar | Last updated July 21, 2009 10:03 AM CT

The Federal Communications Commission’s investigation of BusRadio is in its second month. A commercial WiFi music stream for school buses, over a million kids listen to BusRadio en route to or from classes. The company says that its service offers a "superior, age-appropriate alternative to AM/FM radio programming," in which the students "are engaged and entertained in the safest way possible."

BusRadio haters see the matter differently. "It is a disgrace that our children are subjected to such manipulative marketing tactics such as bus radio," declares one comment to the FCC. "Keep commercial radio OFF SCHOOL BUSES!" says another. "Our kids lives are being hijacked by the media and its onslaught of advertising."

As these remarks suggest, this is one of those issues in which people takes sides quickly. BusRadio didn’t help calm any nerves by boasting in 2006 that it would take "targeted student marketing to the next level." Now the company has to explain to the government exactly what that means.

Mixed age mashup
The FCC launched this probe at the behest of Congress, which stuck the request in its Omnibus Appropriations Act, enacted in May. Capitol Hill gave the Commission 180 days to crank out a report about BusRadio and similar services, then lob it over to the Senate Committees on Appropriations and Commerce. What the senators will do with the document after that is unclear

Other groups, most notably Obligation Inc. of Birmingham, Alabama, warn that many of the musicians who BusRadio streams are "vulgar." The company plays "clean songs from dirty artists," the nonprofit charges.

The agency’s announcement doesn’t actually mention BusRadio, just that it will look into "commercial programming services that are currently being developed or offered for reception on board school buses." The notice invites the public to comment on whether they think these hypothetical services are age- and content-appropriate.

But everybody knows that BusRadio is the defendant in this trial. Shortly after Congress kicked in its request, the FCC sent the culprit du jour a list of questions to answer. The Commission asked the company how it crafts programming for various age levels, including "mixed-age groups," and the extent to which communities can provide feedback on playlists, among other questions.

BusRadio dutifully complied at the end of June, sending the agency a detailed 20-page response to all queries, starting with its technology. The broadcaster provides school transportation vehicles with "Bus Radio Units"