WFTY-TV (Channel 50), the independent station launched in the Washington area last spring, has struggled through a financially grueling first year in which it was battered by lawsuits, top personnel changes, low ratings, lack of funds and the loss of more than half of its programs.

Now the station is entering the summer season -- historically the toughest time for television advertising -- without its top-rated program, "Perry Mason." And it faces the loss of millions of dollars because of the recent Federal Communications Commission ruling on obscenity, according to WFTY-TV President Nolanda Hill, who said that some films the station purchased before the ruling may not pass FCC scrutiny.

"The first year has been a challenge of the first order," Hill said. "We had a hard time paying the bills. We had a hard time staying alive. But we made it."

At one point last year, Hill tried to sell the Rockville station for $50 million. But she said she withdrew the offer after deciding the young station could not command that price.

Hill said she now has no plans to sell the station. She said a Washington station gives her broadcasting company a presence in the nation's capital and a spot in the country's ninth-largest market, with 1.58 million television households.

She said that WFTY has started operating in the black, as the result of cost-cutting measures and increased advertising sales in recent weeks. She predicted that 1987 revenue for Channel 50 and a station she owns in Boston (Channel 27) will total $20 million. But she declined to disclose profit projections.

Hill also predicted that Channel 50 will be able to find the right mix of movies, local sports and other programs to gain a solid footing in the competitive Washington market.

But many in the industry are skeptical about her predictions. "She has her work cut out for her," said Ronald Ninowski, president of the Washington-based Media Investments Inc. He noted that WFTY faces strong competition from the three local network affiliates and two other independent stations.

Ninowski added that the tough climate facing the independent television industry makes WFTY's task even harder. After several boom years, independents last year suddenly felt the squeeze of rising syndication prices and a weak advertising market. Since last fall, 11 independent stations have filed to reorganize under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy law, according to the Association of Independent TV Stations.

But despite the station's financial problems, Hill said she has never considered Chapter 11 and that the company is now poised to take off. "We made a lot of mistakes," she said. "But we've put together a really fine management team."

To emphasize the team effort, she recently changed the name of the company from Hill Broadcasting Inc. to Corridor Broadcasting Corp., she said. Corridor Broadcasting has a four-member board: Hill, two Texas business executives and Lisa Brannock, executive vice president and station manager of WFTY-TV. Hill, 42, a native Texan, is chairman and president.

Hill started in broadcasting with a small station in Dallas, which she ran for several years and then sold. Then she bought Channel 27 in Boston and Channel 50 in Washington, which previously carried Super TV, a subscription television service.

Hill said she paid $15 million for Channel 50 and has invested another $15 million in the station, which went on the air March 31 last year.

Hoping to focus on popular reruns and classic films, the station contracted with Viacom International Inc. for a package of shows, including "Perry Mason," "Beverly Hillbillies," "Gomer Pyle," "Gunsmoke," "Hogan's Heroes" and "My Three Sons."

The original agreement also included "I Love Lucy," but WTTG (Channel 5) had first rights to the show and decided to renew it. The contract price was lowered to reflect the change, but Hill said the loss of "I Love Lucy" hurt the station financially. It had counted on "I Love Lucy" to generate $4 million in annual advertising, according to court records.

The next upheaval occurred less than five months after the station went on the air. Two top WFTY executives were replaced amid charges of mismanagement. The executives filed breach of employment contract suits, and the station filed countersuits. The case was settled recently, but both sides decline to discuss the details.

After the executives left, Hill moved the corporate headquarters from Dallas, where her family lives, to Rockville. Brannock became station manager.

During that time, station executives decided to try to renegotiate the station's $12 million contract with Viacom. The seven-year contract with Viacom called for WFTY to pay the entire $12 million during the first half of the contract, a schedule that Brannock considered unfair because of the station's cash-flow problems.

Brannock also argued that the practice of requiring stations to buy a block of shows hurts a station that only wants to show a handful of the programs in the package.

In October, Viacom informed Channel 50 that it had fallen behind on its payments and owed it $1.14 million, according to court records. Viacom said it was canceling the station's right to air the programs, including "Perry Mason," the station's top-rated show. But when WFTY made another payment, Viacom agreed to discuss other arrangements, according to court records.

A compromise was not reached, however, and Viacom went to court to try to force Channel 50 to quit broadcasting Viacom shows, which made up about half of Channel 50's programming. Viacom declined to comment on the litigation in the U.S. District Court in Washington.

WFTY countersued, charging that block booking of programs is illegal and charging fraud regarding "I Love Lucy." The station also noted that it already had paid Viacom $3.1 million.

In court documents, WFTY said its cash flow "had been reduced to almost nothing" and that Viacom's withdrawal of the shows had caused "temporary advertising instability, among other things." It argued that its "classics" format was built around many of the old favorite reruns, and asked Judge Stanley S. Harris not to force an abrupt change in the programming.

But in April, Harris issued a preliminary injunction ordering Channel 50 to return the shows and stop broadcasting them. WFTY's attorney's called the decision "harsh," and the station argued that such abrupt changes would make it harder to attract advertisers.

Indeed, some advertising agencies dismiss WFTY. "It's doing dreadfully. I refuse to even consider them," said Shelly Roseman, vice president and media director for the local advertising agency of Demaine, Vickers & Associates. "Three-quarters of the people in this market have never even heard of the station."

The media buyer of another top Washington advertising agency said his firm already has bought advertising time on WFTY for one of its clients. But on future accounts, "they don't even get a phone call," he said, saying that his change of heart was sparked by a recent presentation by WFTY representatives. He said he felt they were ill-prepared to answer key questions about who the station is trying to reach and the direction it is headed.

Brannock, however, said she was not concerned by the reaction of local advertising firms because the station's major ad revenue comes from direct sales to local retailers. She said the station decided to focus on local retailers because they are often less susceptible to national advertising slumps and because many are ignored by network affiliates.

Brannock said she believes the approach is working. She said the station started May with "more revenues than we've ever had."

Hill said the new advertising revenue should help WFTY deal with another problem that for months has plagued the station: preempted shows. In the past, when the station ran out of money to pay its bills, the regularly scheduled programs would be replaced by shows that paid WFTY money to be aired. Such shows usually try to sell products, such as diet or hair-growth products, or may be funded by special groups such as religious shows.

When the regular shows were preempted by paying ones, irate viewers called or wrote. But Hill said she had no choice because she needed the money to pay the bills.

"We had to meet our budgets." she said. "We did anything to stay alive." She said that such preemptions are rare now.

Meanwhile, Hill has continued her war on syndicators. She is thinking of setting up a lobbying group to ask Congress to rein in the power of syndicators. In addition to the Viacom suit, WFTY recently sued MCA Inc., another syndicator, to again protest the system of block booking of shows.

Hill, who said she spends 80 percent of her time on the lawsuits, said her company "is one of the few stations that stepped out and said: It {block booking} has got to stop.

"Obviously, that makes our little company controversial," said Hill, smiling.