You have to show them that you're really not scared.
You're playing with your life, this ain't no truth or dare.
They'll kick you, then they beat you,
Then they'll tell you it's fair
So beat it, but you wanna be bad

 -- Beat It, by Michael Jackson

What do Michael Jackson and XM Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: XMSR) have in common?

A. Neither one has had a hit in ages.

B. They're both proprietors of Neverland Ranch.

C. They're coming together for a new XM music channel.

D. All of the above.

The answer, of course, is D. XM has been losing market share to rival Sirius (Nasdaq: SIRI) over the past two years, even though it continues to grow. Regulators holding up the merger between XM and Sirius make it seem as if the deal will never land. And, yes, come next month, channel 63 on the XM dial will play Jackson tracks exclusively in honor of the 25th anniversary of the gloved one's breakthrough Thriller album.

With 104 million copies sold, Thriller remains the best-selling record of all time. It became the first record to generate seven Top 10 charting singles, a pretty amazing feat in and of itself given that the album only had nine tracks.

A March of Michael
Jackson fans may as well enjoy the channel next month because it will be gone come April. At least that's the plan for now. It wouldn't surprise me to see it stick around if the Jackson programming proves popular.

XM has another channel that plays only Led Zeppelin. Sirius has led the way on the artist-specific camp, with channels dedicated to Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Grateful Dead, and Elvis Presley.

It may seem gimmicky at first, but these channels are effective. XM and Sirius already offer dozens of niche-specific channels that music fans crave. However, the artist-specific programming narrows the focus even more, turning XM and Sirius into worthy alternatives to personal record collections.

The artist-specific channels may serve up tracks randomly, but isn't it a fair substitute for taking your Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPod into the car or pondering that Napster (Nasdaq: NAPS) subscription?

Another important point is to consider the artists who are singled out. They typically have deep music libraries that span decades of releases. They're also reaching out to older listeners who can't count on that kind of dedicated, commercial-free, on-air programming from terrestrial radio. If you've priced tickets to see Springsteen this year, you know that older music fans have the means and nostalgic impulse to pay far more to check out their faves than newer artists on the scene.

So many artists, so little programming space
Obviously XM and Sirius have limits as to how many channels they can generate. This will never be a catchall solution. The next generation of receivers will allow users to cherry-pick content -- a major incentive for regulators to get this deal approved sooner rather than later -- but even that will have its limits.

It's still a great approach at a time when the satellite radio growth rate is slowing. They have already bid against each other for talk celebrities and major sports broadcasting rights. Now it's time to let their content do the talking.

"Your body starts to shiver," goes Vincent Price in Jackson's Thriller. "For no mere mortal can resist the evil of the thriller."

Insert maniacal laughter here.

Here are some other recent XM stories on its long courtship with Sirius:

XM is a former recommendation of the Rule Breakers growth stock subscription service. Go for it with a free 30-day trial subscription.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is such a big satellite radio fan that he subscribes to both XM and Sirius. He does not own shares in any companies in this story. He is also a member of the Rule Breakers analytical team, seeking out the next great growth stock early in its defiance. The Fool has a disclosure policy.