A documentary history of Barnard College's freeform radio station.
By Grace Adee and Hart Hallos
In the early ’90s, three Barnard students wanted to DJ a punk show on WKCR, but they were rejected because Columbia’s radio station only plays classical and jazz. So they decided to start WBAR, a freeform radio station where they would have free reign over the airwaves.
That’s the WBAR origin story that’s been passed down from DJ to DJ for years. The WBAR studio—originally housed in the McIntosh Student Center but now located in the basement of Sulzberger Tower—is filled with evidence of its bygone ears, from tongue-in-cheek graffiti and disintegrating flyers for past events to countless boxes of old records, cassettes, and CDs. Word-of-mouth legends and unwieldy archives offer clues to the station’s past, but many of the details have been lost with time and turnover. After returning to the studio last fall, the WBAR staff sought to blow the dust off their many boxes and investigate what secrets they had in store, bringing on Lee Johnson, BC ’25, to lead the reorganization of the WBARchives.
In a real-life High School Musical situation, Hart Hallos, CC ’23, was intrigued by WBAR’s initiative and saw it as a thrilling opportunity to combine two completely opposite passions, DJing for an alternative radio station and working for The Blue & White. Senior editor Grace Adee, CC ’22, jumped on the bandwagon with hope of finally redeeming herself after her WBAR show pitch (Music of the Midwest) was rejected in 2018. By surfing the web, rifling through old zines, and collecting interviews with WBAR alumni through the decades, Hart and Grace began to uncover a version of the WBAR story.
Their findings are presented in the first-ever Bwocumentary (Blue & White Documentary), which traces change and continuity at WBAR from its 1993 founding to the present. While the music industry might have changed a little bit since the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind, the station’s experimental spirit continually reemerges as DJs discover the delight of sharing a new track—no matter how many people are listening.