Radio giant Clear Channel is getting into the social networking business. The company's online music and radio division is introducing a dozen station-branded social networks in the coming months. Each social network will function essentially as mini-MySpace, but will be focused on the local community served by the station running it.

The initiative starts today with the launch of social networks for seven contemporary hit radio stations across the country. KYLD-FM (WILD) San Francisco bows The Wild Space, WKSC-FM (Kiss) Chicago introduces The Mob, WHTZ-FM (Z100) New York has the Z-Zone, WIHT-FM (Hot 99.5) Washington D.C. has the Hot Spot, KDWB-FM (103.1 KDWB) Minneapolis is launching Connect, KHKS-FM (Kiss) Dallas bows Kiss Nation and WLDI-FM (WILD) West Palm Beach also is introducing a network called The Wild Space.

In June the company will roll out another five social networks for a variety of formats: contemporary hit radio stations KIIS-FM (Kiss) Los Angeles, and WFLZ-FM (933 FLZ) Tampa, rock station KTBZ-FM (The Buzz) Houston, urban station WWPR-FM (Power 105.1) New York and News/Talk station KTRH-AM Houston.

The sites will be individually managed by each station but share a common format and architecture. Onesite.com, a provider of social networking technology solutions to third parties, is handling the back-end for the networks. Onesite, a subsidiary of web hosting company Catalog.com Inc., provides similar services to the likes of NBC Universal's iVillage. Evan Harrison, executive VP of Clear Channel and head of its online music and radio unit, sees the local element of the sites as an important differentiator between other social networking destinations.

Not only can Clear Channel monetize the sites with targeted online spots from local advertisers, he says but also people using the networks have a better chance of making lasting connections with other users because they will share more regional affiliations. By contrast other social networks are focused on national and even international audiences.

"The indicators are that people want to connect locally," Harrison adds. Each Clear Channel social network will operate as a separate online destination from the participating station's existing Web site. But both sites will share links to each other. So visitors to Z100.com won't land in the Z-Zone network, but will have opportunities to link into it. Likewise, Z-Zone visitors will be able to link into Z100.com.

Clear Channel plans to drive traffic to the social networks via the "listen Live" Web radio streaming area on the flagship sites of the stations. As part of the initiative, each station that has a social network will introduce a new chat feature in the web radio player that will feature profile pictures of members of the social network who are participating in the chat.

Users will be able to click on the user profiles in the chat area to enter and explore the social network. Stations will also promote the social networks through on-air plugs and special stunts and promotions centered
around the sites.

Each social network will have a user experience similar to MySpace, Facebook, Bebo and others offer. Users can create profiles, customize them with HTML codes and widgets, upload photos, music and video, blog, and add friends.

Users will also be able to customize their profile pages with videos from Clear Channel's catalog of over 6,000 music videos licensed from major and independent labels.

The company hasn't yet established additional content or promotion deals with major and indie labels that are geared around the social networking sites, though they are coming. Harrison says Clear Channel envisions opportunities for everything from artist profile pages to special/exclusive content from artists that will be featured on the networks

While users will be able to upload music and video as well as embed clips from viral video sites like YouTube, Harrison says the networks will be closely monitored for infringing content.

In addition, users will have to acknowledge each time they upload a piece of content that it is not in violation of copyright law. Users who violate the terms of agreement on uploading will be removed from the site. However, he acknowledges that the sites will have to be actively policed. "They days of controlling everything are behind us," he says.