(Edited since original posting to add additional stations.)
On June 12, 2009, television in the United States made the switchover from analog broadcasting to digital. You remember that, I assume, and all the rushing to get everyone converter boxes and whatnot. This is part of a larger, global switchover initiated by the Netherlands in December 2006, one which is still underway and which every nation eventually intends to get done. (Well, everyone except North Korea, who naturally feels no great compulsion to do anything of the sort. South Korea intends to keep some analog signals going for that reason, so they have something to send them.) The US actually still has some low-power stations going on analog, with those stations told that they have to cease analog transmission by September 1, 2015.
For the most part, people got themselves over to the digital side just fine. But there was still the matter of actually shutting off the analog transmission, whether the amply-warned viewers were ready or not. You can warn, you can tell people to mark their calendars, you can get people prepared all you want, but at some point it comes time to just say 'Okay, we're going to be switching to digital now; if you're still not ready yet, that's on you, here we go, KSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHH'. (And amazing as it may sound, despite all the warnings, despite the warnings right there at the moment of switchoff, there were still people wondering what just happened to their TV's who then called to complain.)
What we're exploring today is, when the switchoff happened, what did those people- and people who had made the switchover but felt like being witnesses to the big moment- and people who somehow fell in both categories at the same time, such as these people viewing WFMZ in Allentown, PA, who took the time to hook up a spectrum analyzer but forgot to get a converter box- see?
It depended on the station. There were some general archetypes... actually, before we get to those, let me just take a second to wonder out loud why in the world someone would take the time to animate a signoff sequence for a fictional station:
Someone took time out of their day to create that. Anyway. As for the actual stations, they had several different common methods of handling the moment:
*Some just up and switched with zero fanfare or warning, as seen here in a medley of stations in Canberra, Australia, as well as these stations in Albany, NY, KFVS in Cape Girardeau, MO, WHDH in Boston (as with every station in Boston), WWOR in New York, WTKR in Norfolk, WVBT in Virginia Beach, WOAC in Canton, OH, WZDX in Huntsville, WPRI in Providence, ABW-2 in Perth, KCAL in Los Angeles, KSCI in Los Angeles, WPXD in Ann Arbor, TVO in Toronto, WTOG in Tampa, KOKI in Tulsa, and KLRT in Little Rock. WOAC in Canton narrowly averted zero fanfare, switching after the end of normal station ID.
*Some did a variation of that: they switched to a 'nightlight' broadcast consisting entirely of a looped video instructing on what to do, followed by a hard switchoff, as shown by WCBS in New York, KPHO in Phoenix, KDNL in St. Louis, WFWA in Fort Wayne, WNDU in South Bend, and WLWT in Cincinnati, or a little more explicitly by KVWE in Austin, TX.
*Some made a special goodbye message or video, such as WLWT, as well as WFYI in Indianapolis, MPTV in Milwaukee, WKRG in Mobile, AL, HSV Channel 7 in Melbourne, ATN7 in Sydney, WTVJ in Miami, WTHR in Indianapolis, TV Yamanashi in Japan, Miyagi TV in Japan, WPTV in Detroit, WSAW in Wausau, WI, and BTQ in Brisbane. BBC 2 in London did this as well, but merely as a variance on their normal procedure of a voiceover message between any given programs. (Many stations signing off, such as WSRE in Pensacola, listed the technicals: their being licensed by the FCC, the power and location of their transmitter, and location of their studio.)
*Many Japanese stations ran local images, such as Ehime Asahi TV, Nagasaki Bunka Hoso, Ryukyu Hoso, TV Kanazawa, TV Hokkaido, and Kyushu Asahi TV. All of the Japanese stations ran a nightlight beforehand.
*Some gave a what-to-do-now warning. KSTW in Seattle/Tacoma is shown doing that (along with their digital sign-on), along with KLJB Quad Cities, Iowa Public Television, KFTY in Santa Rosa, CA, WGTE in Toledo, WBRC in Birmingham, FilmFour in the UK, WNHT in Schenectady, NY, KGO in San Francisco, WAAY in Huntsville, and KIRO in Seattle. I'm pretty sure this is also what Asahi TV, Ryukyu Asahi Toso, and Tokai TV of Japan were doing.
*Some hauled out the news team and covered it as an event, such as KABC in Los Angeles, KVIA in El Paso, KATU in Portland, OR, WPVI in Philadelphia, KTVU in Oakland, WTSP in Tampa, KCTV in Kansas City, WRC in Washington, and WHNT in Huntsville (who was a smidge late to the punch). KFOR in Oklahoma City dressed it up a bit with the correspondent charged with performing the shutoff giving a bit of a formal final signoff, as did, kinda sorta, KNXV in Phoenix.
*Some stations hauled out the news team and made a big celebration of it, such as in KTVW in Phoenix. News anchors suddenly became very interested in what Master Control did all day, such as in WRAL in Raleigh, WROC in Rochester, and WCIU in Chicago. A few aging employees who were around from day one were made guests of honor as the newsroom counted them down to flipping the switch, such as in WKMG in Orlando and WXIX in Cincinnati. In at least two cases, WXIA in Atlanta and WTMJ in Milwaukee, the relevant employee was hauled out of retirement so they could flip the switch.
*You remember when networks used to sign off for the night with the national anthem, before the days of late-night infomercials? Some networks dusted those off and ran them, such as WGHP in High Point, NC, WFMY in Greensboro, NC, WZWI in Milwaukee, WNDU in South Bend, and KADN in Lafayette, LA. There were quite a few national anthems. WATC in Atlanta doubled it up with another classic signoff called High Flight before cutting to Master Control. WOWT in Omaha opted slightly differently, going for America The Beautiful... well, the first half of it, anyway, because they had to get that thing shut off. KMYS in San Antonio didn't use a retro anthem, but they did find one with a choir. WLNS in Lansing used more contemporary local images. WPSD in Paducah, KY issued the technicals prior to a vintage national anthem. WISC in Madison gave a what-to-do-now warning in English and Spanish before the anthem. WFSB in Hartford gave you the anthem, the technicals, the test pattern, and the goodbye from the local news anchor.
*Many ran a lot of other old footage. KADN did plenty of that before the national anthem, as did WISN in Milwaukee, WFAA in Dallas, WRTV in Indianapolis, KDKA in Pittsburgh (which used to be a DuMont station), RKB Mainichi Hoso and Tohuku Hoso in Japan, and WTVR in Richmond.
Some other notable signoffs:
*KOIN in Portland, OR ran a rerun of their 25th anniversary commemoration, seen here, here and here, before using the Indian Head test screen (which was a popular choice for the very last thing seen before going to snow).
*WGTV in Atlanta went with Ray Charles' 'Georgia On My Mind' to signoff, though the YouTube video had to cut that audio for copyright.
*WVIZ in Cleveland opted for 'Goodnight Sweetheart' by the Overtones.
*KETG in Arkadelphia, AR picked the state song of Arkansas, 'Arkansas (You Run Deep In Me)' before going to the Indian Head.
*KLCS in Los Angeles just ran a lot of their old station logos and a short message saying they were signing off. A number of stations brought out their old logos; WOSU in Columbus did similar. But they ran 'It's The End Of The World As We Know It' while doing so, which was exactly the correct music.
*BTQ-7 in Brisbane did a goodbye video, though it wasn't much of one: a highly-rapid-fire montage of general historical images from the lifetime of the station, a retro station-specific test screen, and then out. And then the test screen briefly again a minute and a half later.
*ABC in Japan ran a slideshow of images of the station building and the transmitter. Chukyo TV, also of Japan, wasn't far off from that.
*KABB in San Antonio put a guy in front of an old-timey microphone before throwing to the national anthem and Indian Head.
*WTV in Philadelphia ran an old test pattern, and then the CBS logo (they're a CBS affiliate) with the simple message, 'Goodbye'.
*WCAU in Philadelphia, an NBC affiliate, was nice enough to return you to Deal Or No Deal for the seven whole seconds it took to complete the shutoff.
*KATV in Phoenix... ran their normal end-of-night signoff. But they did it twice in a row. So woo for special occasions and whatnot.
*TV Nagasaki of Japan ran what I want to say is a retro signoff, which was filled with paper cranes, which makes sense given what city we're talking about. Another I-want-to-say retro signoff came courtesy of Chiba TV.
*WUNL in Winston-Salem cut off right in the middle of a station ID. Technically, that violated an FCC rule requiring a station to identify itself before leaving the air (the rule was a lot more relevant in the days prior to 24-hour programming), but seriously, nobody cared.
*WMTV in Madison put the camera on the flag outside the state capitol before swapping to the Indian Head.
*WTVS in Detroit ran the national anthems of both the United States and Canada.
*WHRO in Hampton/Norfolk, VA bashed you over the head with it in the final seconds, putting the phrase 'ANALOG SHUTOFF REMINDER' in gigantic block letters that took up the whole screen right before going to snow.
*KOLN/KGIN in Grand Rapids opted for smaller lettering, but they flashed the words 'END OF ANALOG BROADCAST', so it's not like it couldn't have been less noticeable.
*A network called The Blast ran... well, they ran this.
*WDEF in Chattanooga broke in to David Letterman to make their switch, and tried to go out with a dignified news-anchor final message sendoff, with the retro footage, but the switchoff came late and the video cut back to David Letterman. And so it was that the final message streamed on analog in WDEF Chattanooga was "I know where you live beeyooooooooooothch!"
*WWNY in Watertown, NY was running the same Letterman interview, and while they cut the video for the what-to-do-now warning, they left the audio going right up to the shutoff.
*KUVN in Dallas/Fort Worth hauled out New Year's footage to go with the countdown.
*WUPW in Toledo... well, they tried to do a countdown, but the overlaying warning message got in the way.
*WTTG in Washington DC saw one of their anchors kind of forget the whole idea of turning something off. After the analog shutdown ad taken place, she told the remaining viewers, "Hopefully you can still see us, and if you can't, you're probably going to get a message very shortly, and it's going to tell you what you need to do to be able to see us in the future and the rest of your programming." That'd be great to hear... if they could still hear you.
*KXTV in Sacramento saw their anchor be more savvy about that, but then Master Control left him hanging, watching him give his post-shutoff comments for several seconds before throwing the switch.
*KRIV in Houston, the last station shown at the end of this Houston medley (otherwise showing standard newsroom Master Control cuts and hard shutoffs), cut out late, then cut out briefly, then came back with no sound, and then cut out entirely.
*KICU in San Jose went to nightlight; specifically, they went to a video that was nationally distributed to any network that wished to use it. They messed up the nightlight for the first minute or so.
*WSYX in Columbus
ran a countdown on the top of the screen and pretty much cut off half
of Seinfeld with a warning message before going to nightlight. (You'll
also see WBNS in this clip, which ran a single placeholder warning slide
*WAVY in Hampton Roads, VA issued a warning in the newscast, but then just went on with the newscast as normal, leaving the actual shutoff to happen several minutes later in the middle of a commercial break.
*KPNX in Mesa saw their signoff suffer from a bit of miscommunication. The news team had a correspondent in Master Control, clearly gearing up for a countdown, except that the engineer charged with throwing the switch either didn't know or didn't care what hoopla the newsroom had in mind and jumped the gun. So as soon as the correspondent said "Let's flip the switch right now", he was cut off by snow mid-sentence.
*On the other end of the spectrum, WHIO in Dayton's Master Control coverage got very anticlimactic very quickly, until eventually you might have just been screaming 'well? Cut the feed already!'
*WBFF in Baltimore tried to do a national-anthem signoff but messed it up, with the signal flickering between the anthem and regular programming.
*WMYD in Detroit just botched the whole matter entirely.
*WTVI in Charlotte won the award for Most Half-Assed Signoff.
*Fuji TV in Japan... was Japan. As was Nippon TV. And TV Aichi. And Yamanashi Hoso.
*i-TV was the other, more nature-contemplative Japan.
*Tokyo MX was so kawaii. Hokkaido Bunka Hoso was so kawaii. TV Osaka was even kawaiier.
*That poor man in the Toyama TV costume.
*Tokyo TV was also Japan, but after they were done being Japan, they added a countdown to snow at the corner of the screen. Nagano Hoso gave an aerial shot of the transmitter/s, then were retro Japan, and then counted down to blackout.
*My personal favorite outside the ones that will be shown in a second: KMAX in Sacramento straight up called you out on the dumbass that you were for waiting so long and not being ready yet.
And then there were the stations that milked the moment for every bit of poignant commemoration that they could possibly squeeze out of it. Which brings us to the discussion of who, well, won the switchoff. (Warning: on my end, things actually got a little creepy, like a low-voltage version of watching a death, or the last thing broadcast before the end of the world.)
Third place, let's give to WNBC in New York.
Second place, BBC Wales.
So New York's flagship, the BBC, who had the best one? Probably some other gigantic market, right? Would you believe WFTV in Orlando? It was a commemoration of the switchoff, the old retro graphics came out, and not only did they do a fade to black, which was rare enough, they also appear to have been the only network to bother to fade in to snow after they got to black: