Parents asked to weigh in on radio on buses

NASHUA – Before deciding on whether to enter into a contract to install BusRadio on city school buses, district administrators are asking parents to weigh in on whether it is the right move.

The school district has been contemplating utilizing the service on its buses since early 2007, when administrators first brought the idea to the school board.

Based in Needham, Mass., BusRadio is a company that installs its radios on school buses for free with the promise of providing “age-appropriate music, original programming, and public service messages.”

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.
The programming is transmitted to buses wirelessly.

The service has drawn criticism from some child advocacy groups that argue it subjects students to targeted advertising. For each hour of BusRadio programming, there is about four minutes of advertising.

Dave Rauseo, director of transportation for the district, met with PTO presidents earlier this month, asking them to gauge whether parents at their schools think putting the service on school buses is a good idea.

In September 2007, school board members voted to give administrators authority to pursue a contract with the company, but nothing was ever brought back to the board for final approval.

The night of the vote, the school board held a public hearing, but only one parent, who was opposed to BusRadio, showed up.

“There hasn’t been a lot of feedback on the issue,” Rauseo said earlier this month, adding he’s only received about five e-mails from parents since the topic first came up last year.

Rauseo said he asked parents last week to gather feedback on get back to him by early November.

Rauseo and other district administrators have been proponents of the service, saying it could help curb behavior problems on buses. He brought up the idea last year after he said he got complaints about the stations being played on school buses.

Rauseo said he had to ban some stations last year because of the complaints.

Shelley Fay, co-president of the PTO at Sunset Heights Elementary School, said she is developing a survey for parents at the school to take to get their thoughts.

Speaking as a parent and not for the PTO, Fay said she didn’t have a problem with the service and said she planned to go online to listen to the content first-hand to get a better understanding.

“I think it’s something that could certainly be utilized,” she said.

The system includes a panic button that can be used in emergencies, a feature that Fay said appealed to her.

Jim Mealey, chief operating officer for the district, recently presented the proposed contract with BusRadio to the school board’s finance committee.

Mealey said the district was waiting to get feedback from parents before moving forward.

One of BusRadio’s most vocal opponents is the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Josh Golin, associate director of the organization, said it forces students to listen to advertising.

“I think BusRadio is worse than commercial radio,” he said. “Most of the advertising on commercial radio is of absolutely no interest to children.”

Golin dismisses the idea that somehow having BusRadio is going to help control kids. He suggested that bus drivers simply turn off the radios.

Nashua would be the first district in New Hampshire to use BusRadio, said Stephen Connolly, director of national sales for BusRadio.

Connolly said that while BusRadio installs its own units in each of the buses, drivers could still choose to change to an AM/FM station or turn off the radio.

However, districts that don’t play BusRadio as often will get smaller share of the revenue pool that is funded by advertising, he said.

Connolly said the programming BusRadio provides is screened to make sure it is age appropriate.

“It’s a better alternative than adult-oriented radio,” he said.

For any parents concerned about content, Connolly said they can hear on the Web exactly what was played on the bus that day. The site is

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

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