Open Letter To Cobb County Citizens

August 14, 2009

August 9, 2009


An Open Letter to Cobb County, Georgia citizens about the BusRadio controversy.


Last year, after experimenting with BusRadio, the Seminole County (FL) school district removed all the company’s "special" radios. The content of the programming was the main problem. You can see the local TV report explaining why parents wanted this company out of their children’s school buses.

On December 9, 2008 the Parents Coalition of Montgomery County (Maryland) found out that BusRadio was in their district’s school buses. Two days later, after parents protested and a Washington Post article was published about the controversy, the Montgomery County Public School District (14th largest school bus fleet in the country – 1,260 buses) terminated their trial run of BusRadio. It seems that for over six months the district had not sought the public’s opinion about the advisability of contracting with such a controversial company.

On March 8, 2009 the Denver Post editorial board called for Colorado school districts to "pull the plug" on BusRadio.

On May 20, 2009 the Federal Communications Commission began a Congressional mandated study of BusRadio and any similar business models that may be created in the future. The public comments from every state, even BusRadio’s home state of Massachusetts were opposed to BusRadio’s marketing scheme. (Slightly above 85% opposed.) You can read the comments, especially from Georgia, by clicking here.

Surprisingly, Cobb County and Marietta City school districts are two of the small minority of U.S. school districts playing BusRadio on their school buses. They even play it on their elementary school buses.

The main purpose of BusRadio is to get powerful audio commercials to a captive audience of students.

BusRadio loans schools radio equipment (plus GPS, a panic button, and PA system – all things better obtained from other sources) and provides a radio show, in exchange for being able to sell children’s attention to advertisers that BusRadio solely chooses.

BusRadio has developed a distinctive and advertiser-effective radio show for high school students and another for middle school students. But what is even more disagreeable 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. Listen to how the trusted BusRadio DJ sells products to six-year-old bus riders. Click here.

On May 8, 2009 this is what elementary schoolchildren heard on the way to school. This is how BusRadio can pound whatever they want to into the heads of the youngest schoolchildren in Cobb County. Click here.

Our website documents BusRadio’s policy of playing clean songs from dirty artists. (Shawty Lo, Black Eyed Peas, Diddy, One Block Radius, Saving Abel, Hinder, The Dream, T.I., Seether, and Ne-Yo for just a few.) Is there any parent in the Cobb County school district that thinks Akon and Nickelback are appropriate for an elementary school bus?

Here’s a video explanation of why one can’t just listen to BusRadio and determine if it is age-appropriate. [VIDEO]

A typical example of "clean songs by dirty artists": BusRadio played a clean song by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on their high school show. As always, there were no bad words in the version BusRadio played. The problem isn’t so much the song as the people singing it. This group has a well-known reputation for singing about drugs, sex, and unspeakable violence. Google "Bone Thugs lyrics" and be prepared for utter filth. Why would BusRadio play any song by a group whose CDs have parental warnings and their big hits include "F*** Tha Police" "The Weed Song" and "Me Killa"? When BusRadio played Bone Thugs song called "I Tried" they promoted the CD that song came from called "Strength & Loyalty." "9mm" and "Gun Blast" are two other songs on this featured CD. Both songs (on both explicit and clean versions of the CD) feature the sound of gunfire as a background to their violent lyrics.

On September 29, 2008, I was listening to BusRadio’s webcast of their on-the-bus program when I heard gunshots in a song. My heart sank for young people forced to listen to whatever this Massachusetts marketing company wants to dish out.

Nobody in the Cobb County or Marietta school districts can effectively monitor the content of BusRadio. No one has the time to check an artist’s discography, lyrics, and background. School officials took a giant leap of faith when they signed a contract in 2007 to incorporate BusRadio music and marketing into the school day. They messed up. Their transportation departments did not do their due diligence. They bought into BusRadio’s slick sales literature.

From the 2008 Cobb County Operational Support annual report : "The system (BusRadio’s equipment), valued at $2 million, is provided by Bus Radio at no cost to the district. Bus Radio is on approximate half of Cobb’s bus fleet and will continue to be implemented into 2009." With 1,125 school buses, Cobb County has one of the largest bus fleets in the country. Even so, $2 million cannot be anywhere near the value of BusRadio’s equipment. Dividing 1,125 into $2 million comes out to $1,777 per bus. Even accounting for some equipment in the central depot, it is apparent that this is a significant overstatement of the value of BusRadio’s equipment. Cobb County’s transportation officials merely parroted BusRadio’s estimate of value. Also, those same officials failed to tell the public that the district would never be given title to any equipment.

On March 14, 2009 your middle school BusRadio program played a song by Fabolous and on March 19 a song featuring Missy Elliott. Parents have no idea these type of singers are required listening on their child’s school bus. Singers known for their explicit lyrics are heard EVERYDAY on BusRadio. Note: All three programs (high school, middle school, and elementary school) are downloaded to each bus. A simple push of a button can play the middle school show on an elementary school bus. It is easy to imagine some students convincing a driver that they are old enough for the older version.

Is there legal liability when your school district is promoting, even if unintentionally, music by artists who are known for their lyrics that glorify drug use and extreme gun violence? If there is no legal responsibility, then what about moral responsibility?

You may have read Brent Bozell’s Sept. 5, 2008 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.

On June 25, 2008 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." Listen to BusRadio tell first graders that they should go on the Internet and visit when they get home. Who gave the school permission to let these "marketing strangers" talk to elementary school students in this way?

BusRadio’s modus operandi is to first approach the transportation director for a local district and win him or her over to their company’s side. I know there are people in both Cobb County and Marietta City district administration that are very pro-BusRadio. To remove BusRadio the public has to demand it. Otherwise it is just another bad idea in public schools that will become a part of the daily routine.

On September 10, the South Carolina State Board of Education voted to ban all advertising on school buses. BusRadio had hired five lobbyists from the well connected, Columbia, SC-based lobbying firm of Tompkins, Kinard & Associates 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 and all other forms of advertising from all its public school buses. There are solid reasons for these actions.

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

No Alabama school buses have BusRadio due in large part to this memo from the state’s Director of Pupil Transportation.

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"). After quoting BusRadio’s president saying his radio show will "soothe the beast on the bus" the article when on:

"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 Conasauga, 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