Indie podcast network Mule Radio shuts its doors

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The independent podcast network Mule Radio Syndicate is ending the professional side of its operation after two years, leaving its programs – including some pubradio-affiliated shows – to find new online homes.

Co-creator Mike Monteiro, a designer who developed the network as a side project in 2012, announced his decision to end the podcasting venture last month. Monteiro runs the San Francisco design firm Mule Design Studio and began the network as a home for his employees to post their podcasts. He expanded the operations and opened up the network to more than a dozen outside programs, helping them sell sponsorships and find new audiences via the Mule Radio site and app.

Mule Radio will continue as an informal home for Mule Design employee podcasts, but after this month will no longer operate as a business selling sponsorships or providing promotional support for other shows. Among the public media-affiliated podcasts affected by the decision are independently produced programs The Broad Experience, a show about women in the workplace created by former Marketplace reporter Ashley Milne-Tyte; and Destination DIY, a show about creativity from Julie Sabatier, an Oregon Public Broadcasting producer. Both shows are available to pubradio stations via PRX.

“What started as fun became a business, and I was already running a business,” Monteiro wrote in his May 29 announcement. “Therefore, I couldn’t provide this business the level of attention needed to run at the level of quality I wanted it to run.”

Personnel matters also affected his decision, Monteiro said. John Gruber, who hosted the network’s popular podcast The Talk Show, left Mule Radio this year, and managing director Lina Misitzis, who joined in September and ran their day-to-day operations, is leaving for a freelance writing and producing career.

“It was growing to the point where it needed a lot more attention than we could give it,” Monteiro told Current. “Had I switched all of my attention to the podcast network, it wouldn’t have been enough to survive. And it’s not what I want to do. I’m a designer by trade.”

Mule Radio helped land sponsorships for its programs and took cuts of their revenue. Monteiro declined to reveal revenue specifics except to say the network was profitable. The network’s sudden closing came as a surprise to Sabatier, who had only been with them for five months.

“The reason I joined up with Mule in the first place is that they seemed relatively well-established in this new field, but then they decided to fold with very little warning,” Sabatier wrote in an email. “To me, [Monteiro’s explanation] reads as a bit flip . . . I would certainly consider joining another podcast network, but I’d have to see a solid business plan first.”

Mule Radio had recruited Sabatier to join their network. She didn’t factor sponsorship revenue from them into Destination DIY’s annual budget, so the change won’t affect the show financially. She will switch her podcast feed back to SoundCloud, where she had previously posted all episodes.

Mule Radio did help Destination DIY land a sponsorship with website-building company Squarespace. The network’s marketing for the program was limited to a handful of tweets, Sabatier said.

Mule Radio also briefly provided a home for the politics podcast Decode DC, created by former NPR Congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook. Decode DC moved to E.W. Scripps in November. Misitzis is a former producer on the show.

“I think closing Mule Radio makes a lot of sense,” Misitzis said via email. “Without me, their only full-time radio employee, there just wouldn’t be the resources to keep the whole thing going. And keeping it open without a full-time employee wouldn’t be fair to our hosts. A lot of them are trying to turn podcasting into their primary work.”

None of Mule Radio’s programs were making substantial revenue from the network affiliation, Monteiro said. He referred to Mule Radio’s profits as “a little bit of extra beer money for everybody.”

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