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Goodbye to Bus Radio


BusRadio's logo remains eternally optimistic

We just got word that BusRadio is no more. As we reported back in July, BusRadio was the source of controversy and parental ire for its radio service which was piped in to school buses around the country.

Congress even asked the FCC to take a look at BusRadio, to make sure that its practices were on the up and up. Critics of the service expressed concern about the airing of commercials and inappropriate music on school buses to a captive audience of children and teens.

According to an article on School Transportation News today,

“Customers were being informed that the current economy did in BusRadio, just weeks after the FCC issued a report to Congress on the legitimacy of claims made by the company that it produced age-appropriate content for students across the nation who ride school buses as well as at home via the Internet.”

BusRadio touted itself as a better alternative to AM/FM radio on school buses, stating on their website:

“Dear Parents,
We started BusRadio to provide a kid-friendly alternative to the AM/FM programming played on most school buses. You won’t hear shock jocks, songs with bleeped out words or beer ads on BusRadio. We create original radio shows each day packed with clean songs that kids love, age-appropriate DJ talk and carefully selected sponsorships designed for a young audience.”

Despite these claims, ever since their debut (they were founded in 2004), groups like Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood have been working to shut the service down. According to reports, Bus Radio cited the economy as the reason for closing their business and it stands to reason that they lost subscribers amid all of the protests and FCC investigation.

The FCC investigation resulted in a report dated September 8th. According to the report, Bus Radio doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the FCC since it does not hold a broadcast license. However, the FCC still felt it was appropriate to take a look at the service in order to assess whether or not it was in “the public interest.”

The FCC found that BusRadio could improve its practices and pointed out a number of specific concerns, including:

“Our review of the record leads us to conclude that the amount of commercial matter distributed on BusRadio likely exceeds that claimed by the company.

In addition, the manner in which BusRadio presents content to its audience, i.e., without separating commercials from programming, complicates the process of quantifying accurately the amount of advertising actually distributed, and has the potential to confuse children.

BusRadio could conform its programming practices to standards established by the Commission for broadcast television licensees and independent regulatory bodies such as CARU [Children’s Advertising Review Unit]. These standards are designed to address several of the concerns raised in this proceeding regarding BusRadio’s commercial content.”

Although the FCC pointed out various areas for improvement, it ultimately acknowledged that it was not able to determine if BusRadio was in the public interest, instead leaving that decision up to local communities to decide. In its report, the FCC encouraged BusRadio to provide more detailed information about its programming to parents and school districts:

“We encourage BusRadio to adopt more specific content guidelines, make them easily accessible on its website, and establish processes that allow parents and other parties to monitor its programming in a timely and effective manner. Such measures will empower these stakeholders to make educated decisions about BusRadio that advance the best interests of children.”

Who knows what ultimately led Bus Radio to come to a screeching halt; but the closer scrutiny into its practices must have played a role. Although the FCC didn’t find anything egregious, it’s clear that anything having to do with advertising to kids is going to be controversial. And, I for one, am happy that buses are now free of kid-targetting advertising messages. The kid-focused BusRadio website is still up today (complete with Barbie ads, celebrity photos, and community features), so it’s unclear when all of its services will get shut down completely.

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