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Sirius' Game of Chicken

It jockeys with XM for earnings-calendar position.

When programming executives take charge, you can expect a little jockeying for exposure.

Analysts and investors have been awaiting fourth-quarter updates from satellite radio rivals






. As earnings period rolled along and the companies remained mum on their reporting dates, speculation arose that Sirius chief Mel Karmazin didn't want to share the limelight with his rivals down in Washington.

That talk seemed to prove out Tuesday, as XM said it would post fourth-quarter numbers next Thursday and Sirius followed suit with plans to report the day after. Sirius committed to its Feb. 17 appointment less than four hours after XM announced the timing of its own release.

Observers suspect that XM may report the weaker numbers, with higher-than-expected costs per subscriber addition and possibly a slip in market share as Howard Stern pulled users to Sirius. Some momentum at Sirius certainly appeared visible last month, when the company surprised bystanders by

outgaining its bigger rival for the fourth quarter on the subscriber rolls.

Sirius declined to comment and XM did not return a call seeking comment. But by holding onto its earnings report until after XM's delivery, Sirius may avoid any negative sentiment investors may feel about the whole cash-burning pay radio sector.

Some analysts also suggest that showbiz-conscious chief Mel Karmazin may prefer to have the stage to himself as he makes some sort of important announcement. There, the speculation has been swirling around the notion of another rise in subscriber growth guidance -- or, juicier still, perhaps a price hike.

Sirius has spent a fortune acquiring talent like Stern, and some investors are starting to want to see some payback on their investment. One analyst says it wouldn't be surprising to see Sirius raise its monthly rate $1 to $14. Consumers might not flinch if they think Sirius has better programming, and Wall Street can appreciate the move's boost to the top line.

Sirius shares jumped 19 cents to $5.68, while XM fell a penny to $23.54 in afternoon trading.