It's January. It's 2010. 

It's only natural for Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI) investors and Howard Stern fans to begin wondering where "the king of all media" will be at this point next year. His five-year deal is up come December, and Stern is already dropping more red herrings than hints as to where he will be.

A few media reports are shocked to hear Stern announce this week that terrestrial radio stations have been contacting him to leave Sirius by year's end. They're falling for his terrestrial teases. Suckers!

Let's go over a few of the recent headlines:

  • "Howard Stern looking to go back to terrestrial radio?" (RBR.com)
  • "Howard Stern Ditching Sirius?" (The Business Insider)
  • "Howard Stern Mulls Return to Traditional Radio" (NewsMax.com)

Stern isn't going to terrestrial radio, folks. He can't tell you that, because it's not in his best financial interest. Until Sirius and Stern hammer out a new deal, it's to his obvious advantage to throw out potential suitors. I, on the other hand, have no problem breaking down the charade.

Stern has hinted in the past at wanting to work fewer hours. The guy's loaded. He has accomplished everything short of winning a Super Bowl ring. He deserves to enjoy some form of early partial retirement while he is still physically able to do just that.

The guy is no longer the hungry Viacom (NASDAQ:VIA) firestarter, putting in long hours to crank out five days a week of live radio. He's down to four shows a week -- with frequent holiday breaks along the way. If his plan is to scale back even further, what would Clear Channel or CBS (NYSE:CBS) do with a magnetic personality who isn't on the air for all five of its weekly morning drive segments?

Unfortunately for the on-air legend, the Sirius-XM merger means that the two stations that can realistically afford Stern can no longer be played against one another. They have both hands on the same bidding card.

The dot-com solution
This doesn't mean that Stern can only stick with Sirius XM. We live in a time where Pandora has tens of millions of Internet users and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) App Store and iTunes are gateways to create premium audio content. If Stern was quick to jump on the satellite radio wave, he may as well make the early jump to the next great thing.

Unfortunately, there are too many unknowns. Stern may very well make more money by launching his own streaming subscriptions, but that would likely end any plans of taking it easy at this point in his career.

The upside to Stern going the online route is that he could create his own job description. We're only going to be more connected in the future. There's a reason why Ford Motor (NYSE:F) CEO Alan Mulally was a keynote speaker during this month's Consumer Electronics Show, and that's because cars are evolving as entertainment centers.

Unfortunately, being a revolution's foot soldier takes a lot of time. It may be several more years before online streaming becomes a viable replacement for terrestrial and satellite radio. Stern is unlikely to be interested in that kind of open-ended attack strategy.

This is how it will go down
Sirius XM would love to pay less for Stern, and he appears to be lobbying for a lighter workload. Those two goals dovetail perfectly. He'll take less. He'll work less. If he's compensated accordingly, he may even hand over App Store streaming rights.

When Liberty Capital (NASDAQ:LCAPA) beat out EchoStar's (NASDAQ:SATS) Charles Ergen to save Sirius XM from the brink of bankruptcy last year, it seemed to give the promising platform a second chance. It has made the most of it. Subscriber growth has returned, credit upgrades have been issued, and now we have trailing free cash flow. Sirius XM can argue that it doesn't need Stern, just as Stern can argue that he doesn't need Sirius XM.

Both of them would probably be lying, but -- again -- they would never tell you that.

Do you think Sirius XM needs Stern more than Stern needs Sirius XM? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a subscriber to both Sirius and XM. He does not own shares in any of the 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.