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Sirius in drive time

Sat radio operator revs up NASCAR pact

NEW YORK — Sirius Satellite Radio unveiled Tuesday a five-year programming and marketing deal with NASCAR starting in 2007. Contract, which includes a new 24-hour NASCAR channel, will cost Sirius $107.5 million in rights fees — with the biggest chunks to be paid out later in the contract.

News of the latest in a string of high-profile content pacts didn’t rescue the satcaster’s stock, however. Sirius shares fell 5.28% to $5.56 on reports the SEC subpoenaed a gossip columnist in a case over suspicious trading in Sirius stock in the days before company announced its headline-grabbing partnership with shockjock Howard Stern. Stern’s eventual defection from Viacom’s Infinity Broadcasting sent Sirius’ stock soaring.

Chaunce Hayden, a frequent guest on Stern’s show and writer for Steppin’ Out magazine, said over the weekend that he’d been subpoenaed by federal investigators. Hayden had mused publicly about the possibility of Stern ankling to Sirius or larger rival XM Satellite when his contract expired with Infinity — several weeks before Stern officially announced the move.

Hayden has said he never owned Sirius stock and that his statements were speculation, not inside information.

During a conference call to discuss the NASCAR deal, Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin said, “We have no reason to believe this matter involves Sirius or any actions of its officers, directors or employees. Neither Sirius nor any of its officers, directors or employees have received a subpoena in this matter.”

Karmazin said the NASCAR deal includes the franchise’s three core events — the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. “Our 24/7 NASCAR channel will superserve NASCAR’s 75 million fans nationwide in a way that’s never been done before,” Karmazin said.

NASCAR is the No. 2-rated sport on television after football. Sirius is also the official satellite radio partner of the National Football League.

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