BusRadio option streams back into school district

NASHUA – School district administrators are seeking to revisit a proposal to install BusRadio systems on school buses.

BusRadio, headquartered in Needham, Mass., promotes itself as providing “age-appropriate alternative to AM/FM radio programming.” The company installs the systems on the school buses for free.

The school district initially raised the possibility of contracting with BusRadio last year, after transportation director David Rauseo said complaints from parents about radio content on buses forced the district to ban some stations.

A presentation was made to the school in April 2007 that included representatives from the company and audio samples from the programming that would be played on buses.

In September, the school board voted in favor of moving forward with recommendation from the administration to enter into a contract with the company.

But since the vote, there has been no further action taken.

“The status is exactly where we left off last year,” said Rauseo, who had advocated that the district sign up for the service when it first came up.

Rauseo said there were other issues that took priority, namely the negotiation of a new contract for teachers. But with a new school year starting, Rauseo said he hopes to revisit the idea and, if approved, implement it on buses this year.

“It gives us control of what’s being played,” he said. “There’s really very little risk involved. And if we don’t like it, we don’t have to use it.”

Its programming, which is differentiated for various age groups, is heard by more than a million students in 24 states each day, according to the company’s Web site.

Some organizations, such as the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, have argued that BusRadio inappropriately subjects students to targeted advertising and have urged school districts not to use it.

Rauseo said the systems that are installed allow for the bus driver to switch to regular radio or turn off the radio all together. The BusRadio programming is transmitted to the buses wirelessly.

There is no cost for installing the systems, and the school district would get small percentage of the adverting revenue which amount to around $10,000 a year.

The school district transports 8,512 students a day on 86 buses. Rauseo said he didn’t know whether the systems would be installed on all of the buses, or only some.When the issue was being discussed last year, BusRadio did not have systems on buses in any other school districts in New Hampshire. It’s not known if that is still the case.

The city runs its school buses through First Student. Rauseo said First Student has already given the OK to allow BusRadio to install its systems in its vehicles.

Audio samples of BusRadio’s programming can be heard on the company’s Web site, www.busradio.com.

The programming consists of songs that the company says have been vetted by a board that listens of inappropriate content. There is also banter between the DJs, public service announcements and advertising.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood just recently objected to the company’s promotion of the new TV show “90210” on its Web site. Students are encouraged throughout the programming to visit the Web site.

At an Aug. 20 finance and operations committee meeting, Jim Mealey, the district’s chief operating officer, brought the idea back to the school board for consideration.

He presented a sample of what the contract between the school district and the company would look like, but no action was taken at the meeting.

At the meeting, board member Bill Mosher said he has been opposed to the service, but was willing to hear more about the content and advertising before deciding.

“I think kids are exposed to far too much advertising without having it pumped in on their way to and from school,” he said.

Board member Steve Haas pointed out that students would hear more advertising on regular radio stations than on BusRadio, which limits advertising to four minutes per hour.