Arnie WeissmannOf the more than 120 channels offered by Sirius Satellite Radio, about 55 do not broadcast music. On those, you can listen to sports, raw dog comedy (dont ask), news for truckers, patriotic talk shows, English soccer games, programming especially for Catholics and the BBC in Spanish.

Coming soon, Martha Stewart.

What you wont get -- or not in appreciable amounts -- is travel talk. One of the two examples of travel content programming unearthed by Sirius press office at my request is called Travel Secrets, which lasts two minutes. The other, which focuses on adventure travel, is called Expedition Adventure. It lasts five minutes. Both are on Discovery Channel Radio.

Travel is a $265 billion industry in the U.S., and consumers spend considerable free time as well as all that money on travel. It has broad appeal. But of the 79,200 minutes of nonmusic programming beamed down from orbiting Sirius satellites each day, it would appear that there are only seven minutes (thats .0000883%, for those without a calculator) of content dedicated to travel.

In reality, its probably a bit more than that -- its likely you could move the decimal point over one or two spots to the right if you included the ambient travel content thats embedded in some of the other channels they offer (NPR and ABC, for instance) and the possibility that Travel Secrets may air more than once a day. Still, travel appears to be seriously underrepresented on Sirius. And the reason may lie not with programmers at Sirius headquarters in New York but with its distributors in and around Detroit.

This came to my attention because the host of a New York-area travel radio show contacted me after meeting with Sirius. He had noticed the absence of substantive travel programming and thought he saw an opportunity. He wanted to be the voice of travel on Sirius.

But he was told that there would likely never be a voice of travel on Sirius. Sirius depends upon automobile manufacturers for distribution. DaimlerChrysler, Ford and BMW are exclusive partners for factory-installed Sirius equipment, and Sirius has nonexclusive agreements with about 20 others manufacturers, from Aston Martin to Volvo.

Apparently, the auto industry regards the travel industry as a competitor and does not want to hear travel content coming out of car speakers, luring discretionary dollars from new car budgets to vacation budgets.

This all sounded vaguely familiar, and I finally remembered why. Bob Dickinson, CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, has for some time now been preaching the message in reverse -- that the car dealer down the block is the competitor of a local travel agent.

I called Dickinson for a recap of his thoughts on the subject. We in the industry tend to think linearly -- that vacation budgets are vacation budgets, and we all compete with one another for that budget, he said. But all high-ticket expenditures compete with travel. If someone delays buying a new car for six months, he may spend some of the money hes still holding on a cruise.

The automotive industrys focus on travel products as competition may be especially apropos at this point in time.

The pendulum is swinging in a direction thats good for travel products and bad for automobiles, Dickinson believes. Americans have always had a love-hate relationship with their cars. For the past few years, its been love. The SUV was their cocoon, complete with CD, TV, DVD, satellite radio, providing security and comfort. Especially in contrast to air travel.

But now that gas costs are high, were back in the hate phase. Add to that traffic congestion and the lamentable state of our national parks -- overcrowding, lack of government investment -- and you can see that a driving vacation has deteriorated just as its alternatives -- hotels, resorts, Las Vegas, Orlando, cruises -- are being enhanced. The hate phase bodes well for the alternatives.

One cant really blame Sirius for trying to protect the hand that feeds it. And, as its press office pointed out, travel content is not completely absent -- Sirius features the Vacation Channel, which plays music that programmers believe people might enjoy while lying on a beach.

Or, possibly, sitting in a traffic jam.


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