US radio giant Clear Channel Communications is seeking input from community leaders as it tries to boost its reputation.

The media mammoth -- which also has interests in outdoor advertising and entertainment venues -- is to set up local advisory boards to help identify community issues. It plans to launch the first next month in San Antonio, where the company is headquartered, and aims to have twelve up and running by the end of the year.

Clear Channel hopes the initiative will counter claims that its huge reach stifles local media. It is by far the nation's largest radio group with 1,200 stations in over 300 markets, accounting for 18% of radio industry revenues. But its size has led to accusations of undue dominance, as when it was accused of trying to silence opposition to the Iraq war.

According to president/chief operating officer Mark Mays, Clear Channel's local managers in each market will select ten to twelve "community leaders" to sit on the boards and advise on local issues. These will include heads of charities and businesses, and may even include critics of the company.

"We want a cross-section of the community," declared Mays. "Our goal is to say, 'Hey, what are the community needs and interests and guidelines?' I'm sure we won't do everything they tell us to, but we're going to take them into consideration."

Mays insists the company already enjoys good community relations. The local boards, he says, are just a way of formalising the communication process.

However, some in the radio industry dismissed the initiative as little more than a PR stunt, since most radio stations gather community information as a matter of course. "It's just so basic," declared Clarke Brown, president of radio operations for broadcast group Jefferson-Pilot. "We never thought there was good [public relations] to be generated on community ascertainment."

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff