With a human history going back nearly 10,000 years, Catalina Island residents and visitors have long found ways to share their experiences with the mainland. Before the Europeans moved in, native Islanders frequently traded with mainland tribes, sharing stories along with goods like soapstone bowls and jewelry. Sharing those stories required a challenging paddle across the channel in dugout canoes known as ti’ats.
Once the Europeans arrived, the trade goods and the means of propulsion changed, but communication with the mainland was limited to the speed of transportation until July 12, 1894.
On that day, three intrepid brothers hatched a carrier-pigeon service between Avalon and Bunker Hill. The first flight was made by a bird named Orlando in just 54 minutes. Although messages were limited to less than the length of a Tweet, the carrier pigeons were the fastest way to get information across the channel for seven years.
Birds give way to the wireless
Catalina Island’s first newspaper began publication in 1903. But this wasn’t just any newspaper – it was an at-the-time-groundbreaking wonder. The Catalina Wireless used then cutting-edge technology to bring a dispatch of news of the wider world to Avalon, where it was typeset, printed and distributed to eager readers. Wireless technology and Morse code were used by the Los Angeles Times to send the news to Catalina Island, which received a regular edition of the paper later in the day.
Since the days of the Catalina Wireless, the island has been home to several newspapers, but one has endured. Founded in 1914, The Catalina Islander is the second-oldest continuously published newspaper in Southern California. It covers island news, sports and community events and is published weekly. Subscriptions are available both on and off the island.
From wireless radio communication, Catalina Island entered the era of the telephone, with the first telephone directory listing 52 subscribers in 1920. The island’s switchboard operators controlled communication until 1978, when the switchboard was retired and replaced with an electronic switching system. One of the last switchboards used – which was also one of the last used in the United States – can now be seen in the Catalina Island Museum.
Modern communication on Catalina Island
As technology has changed dramatically, so has communication on the island. Although speeds may not be as fast as those found in a major metropolitan area, wi-fi is widely available and there are only a few spots on the island that do not receive cellular service. Keeping in touch with what’s going on no longer requires carrier pigeons – here the top three ways to keep up-to-date with what’s happening on Catalina Island.
Log-on: Thanks to the internet, information about Catalina Island is available anywhere in the world at the click of a mouse. In addition to this site, those looking for island info can surf to the Catalina Island Conservancy’s website, the Catalina Museum’s website and many more.
Subscribe: Most of Catalina’s accommodations and activities providers all have active email programs, as do its major non-profits like the Catalina Island Museum, Catalina Island Conservancy and the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. Subscribe to the get latest Catalina special offers and events delivered to your inbox. Prefer to do your reading the old-school way? Subscribe to The Catalina Islander or have the Catalina Island Visitors Guide delivered to your mailbox.
Social media: With its spectacular scenery and colorful streets, it’s not surprising that Catalina Island is a popular subject for social media. Many local businesses and organizations have active Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds. Search for #CatalinaIsland on your favorite social media platform and stay connected with island no matter where you are.