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One student’s lasting impact to diversify Radio K; creating The Vanguard

As RadioK’s program director, Julian Green created The Vanguard in 2020, the only hip-hop and R&B radio stream based in the state. After he graduated, he left the project that celebrates this Black artform to his white successors.
Image by Liam Armstrong
Former RadioK Program Director and Founder of the Vanguard Julian Green poses in the RadioK headquarters on Thursday, Sept. 2.

Julian Green was hooked on music from a young age. He remembers turning on 106 & Park — the legendary ‘00s hip-hop and R&B music video countdown on BET — with his older sisters as a kid, coming home from kindergarten to watch the “Jesus Walks” music video by Kanye West.

That early love for music grew organically for the University of Minnesota alum and founder of Radio K’s 24/7 hip-hop stream The Vanguard.

Originally launched in October 2020, The Vanguard exists to fill a void in Minnesota radio stations. Although a few channels such as KMOJ 89.9 FM occasionally play hip-hop songs, The Vanguard is the only exclusively hip-hop and R&B radio stream based in the state, according to Green and other members of Radio K.

The process

The Vanguard’s conception was not an easy nor a quick process. Green first received a call about the idea in the summer of 2019, after Radio K received some grant money. This was a perfect opportunity for Green, who had dreamt of curating an internet radio stream ever since his freshman year days in the dorms, when he took it upon himself to create his own music blog.

However the project stalled for months and it was not until March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic cleared Green’s once-busy schedule, that there was a chance to build on the previous summer’s foundation.

“I had to go through all of our CDs in Radio K’s library, which was about 20,000 CDs, to see what was hip-hop and whether it was good,” Green described, “I had a classroom full of CDs at the end of it. Then, that April, the process began of just burning over 1,000 CDs.”

Green spent his following summer assembling a team and hosting meetings in preparation for The Vanguard’s eventual launch that fall.

What The Vanguard means to RadioK

“That’s like his baby,” John Kueppers, the producer of The Vanguard’s Local Vibes, said about Green’s dedication. “It was really him and his passion towards The Vanguard that really got me to be like, ‘Oh, this is something I definitely want to be a part of … It was just so new and refreshing.”

Now that Green has graduated and moved onto MPR’s The Current, Kueppers is part of the group that has been tasked with continuing The Vanguard.

For its staff, this project means more than just providing a space for some of their favorite music: The hope is to address some of Radio K’s deeply rooted issues.

“It made Radio K more inclusive,” Kueppers explained, “The Vanguard gave Radio K a spotlight that they weren’t really touching beforehand.”

Paul Schoening, Radio K’s music director and The Vanguard’s program director, echoed a similar sentiment, “I feel like with our sound right now we’re trying to attract a certain crowd — skater boys and dudes that just listen to soft indie rock — and, it’s just like, there’s so many more great types of music.”

Leaving a legacy

With Green’s departure, The Vanguard’s staff is nearly all white and one of two Minnesota radio stations to solely curate collections of Black music. The paradoxical nature of this task is not lost on Cat Grimm, a DJ at Radio K and The Vanguard’s marketing director.

“I think it’s been about taking the time to build relationships in a way that’s not just purely extraction,” Grimm said. Like the rest of the staff, she wants The Vanguard to help support Black hip hop artists in the Twin Cities, rather than exploit them for clout, clicks, and content.

One way Grimm and others are hoping to diversify the sound and staff of the station is through recruitment, a strategy that relies heavily on the first few weeks of the upcoming school year.

“With freshman Welcome Week, we hope that as many people as possible can get involved with The Vanguard because there’s a lot of people that wanted to be involved, but they didn’t see an avenue since most of what they listened to was hip-hop,” Joely Kelzer, The Vanguard’s music director, said.

As his successors begin the work of continuing The Vanguard in his absence, Green also feels torn about the program’s current racial dynamic.

“I built [The Vanguard] with the intention of preserving history and teaching people about the origins of this genre so that it doesn’t get whitewashed, like what happened with rock and roll,” Green said. “To leave that in the hands of white people felt really weird.”

As uncomfortable as the transition may have been for Green, it was not necessarily hopeless either. “I completely trust everybody that’s in charge,” Green said of Kueppers, Schoening, Grimm and Kelzer, “They’re very reverent and they’ve been doing a great job.”

The future looks bright for Green himself too. In addition to working at The Current, Green’s DJing career has also been on the upturn. He recently opened for the critically acclaimed music rapper and producer Pi’erre Bourne.

“But The Vanguard is the thing I’m most proud of,” Green said, “I hope more young Black people are able to be a part of it.”

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