I guess I'm not the only one who enjoys walking through the food courts at the mall and collecting free chicken samples. There's at least one shopping center in South Florida -- Dolphin Mall, if you're curious -- where you can go from one end of the food court to the other and walk away with no less than six toothpicks adorned with various bits of poultry. After you've downed your bites of fried, teriyaki, bourbon, BBQ, and orange chicken, you may not have much of an appetite left!

This week, Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI) is handing out the toothpicks. It's taking its biggest Sirius star, Howard Stern, and serving up a taste of him to hungry XM subscribers. From now through Memorial Day, the Howard 100 and Howard 101 channels are available on active XM receivers, at no additional cost.

Is this desperation? No. It's brilliant.

Premium movie channels do this kind of promotion all the time, with their "open house" windows. Offering just a few days of access is a way to add some more paying subscribers. And the Stern strategy makes perfect sense at Sirius XM.

  • It wasn't until last fall, after the merger was completed between Sirius and XM, that a "Best Of" package was even available. Since then, XM subscribers have been able to pay $4 more a month for access to a few Sirius exclusive channels, including Howard 100 and Howard 101. This campaign might help remind them.
  • Stern kissed Viacom (NYSE:VIA) goodbye in December of 2005, so it's been several years since many XM subscribers have had free, legal access to Stern's on-air antics.
  • XM listeners may not even be aware that Stern isn't running a one-man show. The shock jock has recruited other renegade radio personalities to fill up the programming block on his channels.
  • Satellite radio was originally a growth story at the retail level, where consumers had to choose between the rival services. With automakers as the big satellite-radio pushers, retail subscriber numbers have been shrinking for several quarters now, and those who are buying cars don't even get a choice of services in most cases. Buy a Ford (NYSE:F), get Sirius and Stern. But buy a General Motors (NYSE:GM) car, and you get XM and no Stern. Brand-specific fans can naturally resort to aftermarket switches, but the choices are no longer equal in cost or simplicity.

Sirius XM would love to walk away from this week's freebie with a horde of new Stern fans. It hasn't revealed how many $16.99 "Best Of" packages have sold since launching the service, but it's probably not a lot. Average revenue per subscriber has dipped over the past year.

If this experiment is successful, though, it's just a matter of time before XM stars such as Oprah Winfrey or Virus 202's Ron & Fez and Opie & Anthony have a chance to shine on Sirius. The next evolutionary step in handing out the sonic toothpicks would be to beam out select programming to deactivated receivers. That's when chickens would learn to fly.  

More news than static on Sirius XM:

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz subscribes to both XM and Sirius, but he owns no shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.