Clear Channel thinks locally

'Commitment to community' unveiled amid talk of Fairness Doctrine

With such talk-radio stars as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity 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 in which it broadcasts. The move embraces an idea floated two years ago by liberal think tank Center for American Progress in its report titled "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio." The report called for more local programming and advisory boards of "community leaders" tasked with encouraging and discouraging certain programming.

Some radio personnel call localism a back-door effort to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine, a law abolished in 1987 that required both sides of controversial issues be discussed. The measure's reversal opened the door for political talk radio to flourish without fear of reprisal from bureaucrats.

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

The advisory boards are one of several steps Clear Channel said it is taking to raise its standards to "an impressive new level of commitment to local community affairs." It could also serve as ammunition in a bid to head off any return of the Fairness Doctrine.

Among other areas of focus in the initiative are charitable partnerships, public-service announcements and local public-affairs programming, which includes creating one- to five-minute segments that would run at the discretion of program directors.

But talk is only a portion of Clear Channel's offerings, so the company intends to delve into localism for music, with stations customizing programs to showcase local artists.

Parts of Clear Channel's announcement will appeal to localism advocates, but other portions might not, including the company's plans to make its most popular programming available to all of its stations. (partialdiff)