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BusRadio tames raunchy music

 

Scott Van Voorhis

Boston Herald

December 27, 2007

Michael Yanoff and Steven Shulman want to build the nation’s next media empire - one school bus at a time.

The pair of local entrepreneurs last year launched Bus Radio, which beams a mix of cleaned-up pop hits and DJ chatter to school buses across the country from its Needham studio.

The local firm is now in high gear. It has expanded its budding radio audience from 100,000 school bus riders to a million in school districts across the country.

But Yanoff and Shulman have bigger ambitions that just providing entertainment on the ride home. They want to turn Bus Radio into the next Nickelodeon.

The pair are already trying to take the Bus Radio program and expand it into other media venues. Bus Radio recently launched a Web site and is in talks with radio stations to syndicate the program.

The company has also been a hit so far with investors. Bus Radio has raised $18.5 million in two venture capital rounds, and is now working on a third offering, a spokesman said.

“Our goal is to become a fully integrated media company like Viacom did with Nickelodeon,” Yanoff said.

Still, not everyone’s a fan.

Bus Radio’s expansion is being closely watched by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an activist group formed to oppose efforts by advertisers to target children.

“It’s student-targeted marketing,” said Josh Golin, the group’s associate director.

But Yanoff contends that Bus Radio is a replacement for raunchy fare on commercial radio that many bus drivers tune into anyway.

And there is a safety argument as well, the company says.

The Bus Radio system comes with GPS and a driver panic button connected directly to local emergency services.

There are also internal and external public address systems on each bus, officials said.

As Bus Radio expands, it is doing so in strategic fashion, aiming to install its systems in the top media markets in the country.

That means targeting metro areas like Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles in a bid to build a media platform attractive to “sponsors,” eager to reach the lucrative lower-age rungs of the demographic ladder.

For the moment, though, profitability is taking a back seat to growth. If it weren’t for the high costs of rolling out the system to new school districts, Bus Radio probably could break even in a few quarters, Yanoff said.

The Needham company is now aiming for its next big milestone - 50,000 to 60,000 buses and 5 million listeners.

“We are a media company and media companies need to be in the top markets in the country, the NFL cities,” Yanoff said.

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