BG news Y2K - Graphic by Jim Baer

An illustration by former BG News staffer Jim Baer.

Y2K might seem like a joke decades later, but in 1999 it was no laughing matter. Essentially, early computer programmers saved memory by shortening years in dates to two characters: 99 instead of 1999. The fear was that when the calendar flipped to 2000, computers would confuse that year with 1900. 

And then what? Well, you see, the computers would mess up. ATMs wouldn’t be able to read credit cards. Bills would be incorrectly deemed past due. Some worried planes would drop straight out of the sky.   

Amyjo Brown reported in the BG News that the city of Bowling Green and BGSU had both been working on this problem for years, rewriting problems and testing them for glitches. She also interviewed George Stossel, president of the local Dacor Computer Services, who said, “I don’t think the crisis will be that vast. People might do things by hand for a while.”

The horror.

In June, the BG News printed a “Y2K Checklist” originally published from PC Magazine. (Ironically, the magazine citation featured the typo of “April 6, 19999.”) This checklist encouraged people by late December to stock up on disaster supplies, fill up their tanks of gas, and secure extra blankets and coats in case the power systems go out.

During the fall semester, the BG News began running a weekly series of stories entitled “Millennium Monday” dealing with the highly anticipated new year.

Reporter Jeff Arnett wrote that student opinion was split on Y2K; some believed it was a big deal, while others considered it a hoax. Students bought countdown clocks, shirts and other 2000-themed apparel. One freshman even copped to having bought a condom with the words “Y2K Ready” printed on it.

With a few weeks to go, Brown wrote that the BGSU’s Office of Registration and Records wasn’t taking any chances. Officials told the student body to make copies of important papers before leaving for Christmas break just in case the university website went down.

The last “Millennium Monday” story of the year was written in mid-December by Stefanie Sizemore. BGSU installed new PEDs (personal entry devices) at the entrances of each residence hall. The university had long been planning to replace these, but Y2K hurried things for fear of computerized locks breaking down.

On New Year’s Eve, the BG Police Department established a command post with representatives from all city departments in case there were any major Y2K-related issues. The group waited together from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., but nothing happened and they went home.

When students returned the second week of January 2000, staff writer Jennifer Luley reported in the BG News that the Y2K result was mostly a dud. Primarily, that was due to the years of planning by campus and city officials to make sure their computer systems were prepared.

In life, when you think you’ve figured out one problem, another presents itself. Such was the case for computer programmers, who circled a date at the end of February.

The new systems could now read years correctly. But would they be able to figure out a Leap Day?

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