Max Robinson, whose on-air partnership with Gordon Peterson has been a key factor in Channel 9's leadership in local news TV news ratings during the past several years, yesterday signed with ABC News.

The 10-year veteran will remain at WTOP until June 1, when his current contract expires.

In a brief statement, issued in New York yesterday, ABC said: "We welcome Max Robinson to ABC News and we are confident he will make a major contribution to our news program. The details of his role on the ABC Evening News will be announced shortly."

There has been speculation that Robinson will be assigned outside of New York by the network, perhaps on the West Coast, but in a major, daily on-air role.

Channel 9 announced Robinson's departure at the start of the regular 6 p.m. newscast last night.

Robinson said yesterday that "Any success I've had is because of the people I work with at Eyewitness News. I owe it all to the news team and it's been marvelous working with them."

Vice President and News Director Jim Synder said yesterday that there are no immediate plans to seek a successor to Robinson, whose departure has sparked speculation at rival stations the news ratings race could heat up considerably when he leaves.

"Don't give the impression," said Snyder, "that we're going to collapse when Max goes. We have a very strong team here."

Robinson's move is not totally unexpected. He attracted network attention a year ago this month with his marathon coverage of the Hanafi hostage story.

In addition, Robinson, who previously had been one of the highest paid anchors in town, could not help noticing the arrival of Jim Hartz at WRC at an annual salary of $200,000 and David Schoumacher's renegotiated salary at WJLA that may pay him as much as $175,000 a year in its final year. Robinson reportedly was paid $90,000-plus at WTOP.

Meanwhile, a potential candidate to replace Robinson at Channel 9, learned yesterday he was free to apply for the job.

Maury Povich, longtime 10 o'clock news anchor and "Panorama" host at WTTG, was dropped by KNXT, the CBS-owned station in Los Angeles.

Povich had been co-anchoring the 5 p.m. news show with Connie Chung since he moved there last September from an anchor position at WMAG, the NBC-owned station in Chicago.

Povich made his move to Los Angeles last year at what he admits "was the worst possible time."

He said yesterday in Los Angeles that "two months after I signed with CBS everybody I'd dealt with had been fired. Then there was a new management at KNXT and of course I was the "new kid on the block" when it came time to make changes."

The new management, which is under the gun from parent CBS to jolt KNXT from its longtime third place in the important L.A. market, this week moved Josehp Benti back to his co-anchoring spot with Chung, prompting Povich's dismissal.

Povich said yesterday he plans to return to Washington in "about two weeks.

"I'm ready to come home. My sabbatical is over. Washington in the spring is very nice."

Told that Robinson was leaving Channel 9 in June, Povich said: "Hey, that's interesting." He added that he "definitely" wants to get a TV job in the East, "preferably in Washington."