Clear Channel makes foray into localism

Company creating local advisory boards in all of its markets

With talk-radio stars like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity regularly using their pulpits to rail against anything that smacks of government-mandated "localism," the nation's largest radio company is embracing some of those tenets voluntarily.

Clear Channel said Wednesday it will create "local advisory boards" in every market where it broadcasts. In doing so, it is embracing an idea floated by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, run by John Podesta, who headed President Barack Obama's transition team.

CAP issued a report two years ago called "The Structual Imbalance of Political Talk Radio" that was criticized by many radio executives and talent. In part, the report called for more local programming and for advisory boards made up of "community leaders" whose task would be to encourage and discourage certain programming.

Some radio personnel call "localism" a backdoor effort to reinstitute a sort of "Fairness Doctrine," a law abolished in 1987 that demanded both sides of controversial issues be discussed. When the law was reversed, it opened the door for political talk radio to flourish without fear of reprisal from government bureaucrats who might deem some programming unfair.

In its announcement Wednesday, Clear Channel CEO John Hogan said: "We are increasing our commitment to community programming, increasing our accountability and broadening our public-service contributions in every local market we serve."

The advisory boards are one of several steps Clear Channel said it is taking in an effort to raise its standards of "an impressive new level of commitment to local community affairs."

Some other areas of focus are charitable partnerships, more public-service announcements and local public-affairs programming. The latter includes creating short local segments ranging from one to five minutes each to run at the discretion of local program directors.

But talk is only a portion of Clear Channel, so the company intends to delve into localism for music, too, with some stations developing customized programs for showcasing local artists.

While some of Clear Channel's announcement will appeal to advocates of localism, other portions might not, like its plans to make the company's most popular programming available to all its stations.

Clear Channel said 266 radio stations in the U.S. have gone dark since the fourth quarter of 2007 and sharing content is a cost-effective way to stop that trend. It touted the likes of Ryan Seacrest, Steve Harvey and Elvis Duran as talent that can expand into more markets.

Local talent with "extraordinary success" can be rewarded by expanding their shows across the nation, Hogan said.