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Times Square Ready For Revelers

More than a billion people are expected to watch, either in person or via TV, as the lighted ball drops in Times Square Thursday night to mark 1999.

To make sure that it all goes like clockwork - as it has every year since 1907 -the Times Square Business Improvement District did a practice run on Wednesday, to the befuddlement of some tourists.

Correspondent Morry Alter of CBS station WCBS-TV in New York reports that everything worked as it should, although the event's sponsors proved that they didn't know how to dress for a cold New Year's Eve in the Northeast.

In preparation for this year's event, workers on Wednesday hurriedly erected banks of stadium lighting and used thick ropes to secure giant speakers that dangled from the skyscrapers overlooking Times Square.

Earlier in the week, confetti was dropped to make sure it fell just so, and the silver spangled ball had some of its burnt-out lightbulbs replaced.

An expected 500,000 people will crowd midtown streets to usher in 1999 in an event that has been held annually in New York since 1905, when The New York Times opened 1 Times Square using electric bulbs to celebrate the coming of electricity.

The current ball has been in operation since the 1960s, with some modifications. The early practice of lowering it by ropes and pulleys has become more automated over the years.

Confetti dropped from offices
One controversial change that occurred in the 1980s was a change in shape to an apple to signify New York's reputation as "The Big Apple." It was so unpopular the ball shape was quickly reinstated.

There will be no change in shape for millennium, but there will be a big change in materials.

"This is going to be the last year for this ball, " said Brendan Sexton, president of the Times Square group. "We're getting a whole new one for the millennium. We're going to have Waterford crystal and Con Edison design a new ball for us."

Workers replace bulbs on ball
The business group is hoping the old ball can be put on display somewhere in the area or sent around the country on tour.

New at this year's celebration will be a 16-foot-tall Father Time puppet that is supposed to drift through the crowds, a beefed-up sound system pulsing from the rooftops, more lighting effects, and fireworks.

Helping Mayor Rudy Giuliani push the button that will bring down the ball is Chinese gymnast Sang Lan, who still is recovering from injuries suffered during the summer Goodwill Games on Long Island.

Among the throngs will be a contingent of volunteers from the American Bible Society, who will had out 35,000 copies of verse they hope fits in as well as possible given the raucous circumstances.

"Praise God with trumpets and all kinds of harps. Praise him with tambourines and dancing, with stringed instruments and woodwinds. Praise God with cymbals, with clashing cymbals," the tract says.