Satellite radio fans who warmed to Bubba the Love Sponge's gritty radio antics cheered when Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI) inked a new deal with the Howard Stern channel favorite last month, extending Bubba's stay on satellite radio for a few more years. But now that cheering is turning into jeering.

The new arrangement isn't exactly ideal for satellite radio subscribers. Instead of live "no holds barred" afternoon shows from Monday through Thursday, Sirius listeners are actually hearing broadcasts that aired through Cox Radio (NYSE:CXR) terrestrial stations earlier in the day. Friday presents the only live, unchecked show on Sirius.

"A little bit of Bubba is better than no Bubba at all," Stern may say, but the content subtraction is not what premium radio is supposed to be about.

Sirius XM ruffled a few feathers when it consolidated many of its commercial-free music channels in a cost-saving move two months ago, but that's old news. If folks haven't cancelled since the November swap, it's either an immaterial move, or one that they actually agree with. However, you will be hard-pressed to find a chorus of satellite radio subscribers who feel that they are getting the appropriate bang for their buck with terrestrial-radio reruns.

"This is what we could agree upon," Todd "Bubba" Clem told FMQB last week. "It's what they could financially afford at this point, so this is what we came up with at this juncture."

It's true that Clem's show isn't as big a draw as Stern on Sirius or Oprah Winfrey on XM. Sirius XM needs to prioritize. Losing Bubba would be bad. Losing Stern -- which signaled the turning point for Sirius as it began to close the market-share gap with XM -- would be catastrophic. However, the cutbacks aren't easy for subscribers who wonder why content is being scaled back, even as they still pay the same rates.

If anything, as a scalable model, Sirius XM should actually have greater flexibility to spend more as its subscriber base grows. And, yes, its accountholder rolls have grown every quarter, even with the economic swoon.

With any luck, this is only a short-term tactical pullback. Sirius XM has a lot of debt to repay this year. If and when it's able to shore up its financial position, this potentially cash-flow-positive company could achieve so much.   

Let's hope it does -- the competition isn't holding back. Between terrestrial radio's HD Radio, digital media players like Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone and SanDisk's (NASDAQ:SNDK) Sansa, and Web-radio players like Pandora, CBS' (NYSE:CBS), and Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) AOL Music -- all of which can be streamed into cars via smartphone apps -- Sirius XM can't afford to fall asleep at the wheel.

There are only so many corners the company can cut before subscribers do some cutting of their own. Still, I trust Sirius XM to ultimately do the right thing, once its creditors give it a little more breathing room.

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