The Free Lance—Star
Publishing Co., Story
The Virginia Star was first published in Fredericksburg in 1869 by Rufus B. Merchant. Over the years its name changed to the Fredericksburg Star, The Star, and in 1893, becoming the area’s first daily newspaper, The Daily Star.
The Free Lance newspaper was first published in 1885 when a group of 34 local merchants and businessmen created the paper as an independent voice “Devoted to the Agricultural, Commercial and Manufacturing interest of Fredericksburg and vicinity.”
In 1900, after years of friendly (and sometimes not-so-friendly!) competition the companies merged as The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co. of Fredericksburg, Va., but continued to publish the two papers independently until 1926 when under the leadership of Josiah P. Rowe Jr., they were combined into a single, six day a week newspaper: The Free Lance—Star. Rowe’s uncles A.P. and M.B. Rowe were among the early investors in The Free Lance. He eventually became the sole owner and publisher of the newspaper.
The sons of Josiah P. Rowe, Jr., Charles S. Rowe and Josiah P. Rowe III, took over as co-publishers after their father’s death in 1949. In 1960, they took the bold step of adding a radio station, WFLS. First on 1350 AM, then quickly expanding to 93.3 FM, it quickly became the region’s radio powerhouse. Formatted as a Country Music station since 1975, it consistently leads the market. In 1994, the company added a station in Spotsylvania County, now broadcasting as 99.3 The Vibe (WVBX).
As the Internet emerged in the mid-90s, the company developed a web presence which is now fredericksburg.com. This site has become the premier news, advertising and community portal for the region.
In 1997, upon Charles’ retirement, the family of Josiah P. Rowe III purchased total ownership of the business. In 1998, responding to changing lifestyles and regional growth, The Free Lance—Star added a Sunday edition and moving from afternoon to morning publication.
In 2001, another radio station was added when the company purchased 96.9 WWUZ (The Rock), licensed to Bowling Green. In 2010, the company expanded its Printing capacity with the opening of Print Innovators, a state-of-the-art Commercial Printing, Inserting and Mailing operation.
In 2011, Josiah Rowe III retired, and his son-in-law, Nick Cadwallender, now serves as President and Publisher. In 2013, the newspaper unveiled a tablet edition at freelancestar.com, and the radio station together with fredericksburg.com started another station, FredFM which can be heard at 96.5, WFLS HD2 and online.
Today, the family owned and operated media businesses provide a strong, independent voice for the community.
With 144 years of service to the Fredericksburg community The Free Lance—Star Company has developed a reputation for integrity, credibility and innovation in this region and throughout the media industry. As the company grows to meet business and audience demand, the mission remains: to improve and connect the lives of the people in the communities we serve.