KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WBIR) – Under the twinkling light of a disco ball and encouraged by the echoes of champagne corks popping, at the Hyatt hotel in Downtown Knoxville, couples kissed to welcome the new millennium.
Amid the excitement at that party and others like it around the world, there was also an underlying apprehension. For the first time in history, fears of an impending global computing shutdown caused by a simple change in numeral — from 19 to 20 — sent people scrambling to the ATM. Grocery stores stocked up on bottled water and ran out of propane.
Television stations, including WBIR, broadcast live from the parties, but also from the potential failure points.
Reporter Jim Ragonese spent the New Years Eve at the First Tennessee Bank on Broadway where a steady line of customers took cash out of their accounts — just in case.
Most of the customers he interviewed cast doubt on the prospect of computers failing, but they waited in line at the ATM nonetheless.
Ragonese celebrated the New Year with a cameraman and a live truck, waiting for the moment of truth in the special midnight WBIR broadcast when he would test out the ATM live on air.
He remembers checking beforehand to make sure he had enough money in his account. Reporters also waited at KUB headquarters at midnight in case the power went out (it didn’t).
Grocery stores saw increased demand too. On New Years Eve, one clerk said propane was in high demand.
“We’re stocking up just in case something happens,” one shopper told WBIR.
Another said, “I don’t really think it’s going to happen. But if it is, I want something to drink the next day.”
Looking back at the stories reporters filed in the final week of 1999, there’s some ambivalence too. Many interviewed cast doubt on the possibility of a global crisis from a simple numerical change. In hindsight, they had the last laugh. The rest of us had a sizable inventory of canned goods to eat for the first half of 2000.
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