It began at 3pm on November 2 1936, with speeches by the BBC chairman and Postmaster-General from Alexandra Palace.
But the analogue television signal was switched off for good with considerably less ceremony yesterday, bringing an end to 76 years of broadcasting history.
The final blow came shortly after midnight as Olympic gold medallist Dame Mary Peters flicked a switch at the 1,176th and last working transmitter on the Divis Tower in Belfast.
The £630m switchover project that started five years ago in Cumbria officially ended in Northern Ireland. Thousands of Freeview viewers woke up yesterday with sets to retune, while anyone still using an analogue TV without a set-top box faced a screen full of "snow".
While those who updated their television years ago would not have noticed a change, traditionalists were nostalgic. Meta Turkington, 67, from Belfast spent the final night of analogue TV watching Ceefax with her son. "I watched the Queen's Coronation in 1953. We were the first people to have a black and white TV on our road," she told The Independent. "I'm an old fashion type and not into technology and have always been content with just a few stations. Why do we need so many more channels? I'm not even going to be able to watch anything until my son comes home tonight and retunes my TV."
As many as 4,000 digital sets have been installed in the last week and the helpline will stay open for another month to deal with latecomers. Gerard McCavanagh, 36, from Glengormley in County Antrim, was more sanguine. "I've had an analogue TV all my life. Now I suppose I'm going to have to buy a brand new TV – and that's the downside to all this. They're not cheap. But I guess things change and move on."
At least, he added, his daughter would grow up in a more united televisual world than he did. "I still remember Phillip Schofield and Gordon the Gopher suddenly saying 'Goodbye Northern Ireland' in the middle of Children's BBC," he recalled. "Then it'd cut to the news. But I'd always wonder what we were missing over here."
The Government hopes that the switchover will create space for the fourth generation of mobile phone services, or 4G, that could generate as much as £4bn for Treasury coffers when it is implemented next summer. Arqiva, the firm that managed the transmission switchover, will also handle that project.
Yet not everyone was sentimental. Vernon Woods, a 51-year-cab driver from Ballygomartin, North Belfast, had already switched. "I'll miss them TVs – but not for the programmes," he said recalling his time growing up on The Shankill Road. "When we were kids we used to find old televisions and take out the valves. I never forget you could smash the valves against the wall and they'd explode. The bang was horrendous. All this white powder would come out. And the massive magnet down the side of the TV – hours of fun."
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The next challenge will be converting the UK to digital radio, with as many as 100 million analog sets consigned to the scrapheap once the conversion timetable is finalised next year.
Yesterday, within hours of the signal turning off, life was already moving on. Barry McNulty from Greencastle in County Tyrone tweeted: "In 20 years time when I'm telling the story about how I got the TV to work by using a coat hanger, everyone will think I'm crazy."
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