"Vicki!"

A human voice, sounding strangely mechanical, crackles over the office intercom, breaking through the hum of the typewriters and phone conversations in the newsroom.

Jolting to attention, Vicki Tamburo pads off to the editing room down the corridor, where the one-word command originated.

Three cartridge tapes of AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland's Labor Day message must be toted some 30 feet back to the newsroom. And that's Tamburo's job.

In a town of white-collar, paper-pushing office work, the labor-management split is muffled somewhat by middle managers and assistant and associate directors. But in the end, there are still those in Washington who call the shots and those who make the coffee.

As a 21-year-old desk assistant at ABC radio, Tamburo is the one who jumps; an office gofer, oiling the cogs in the office machinery.

"What I hate the most is we're the low men on the totem pole," says Tamburo, who soon will celebrate her one-year anniversary at ABC. "And I hate that I have such a long way to go to where I really want to be."

Off in the future, she sees herself as a television reporter. But having just graduated from the University of Maryland, Tamburo, a communications major, has a lot to learn. Now she is paying dues, clipping the office wire machines, running errands, answering phones and operating the xerox machine and the Rapidex transmitter that sends Washington news to ABC headquarters in New York.

"I know all the little things we do are important. If we didn't do them it would really fall apart out there," saysTamburo. "But somehow they don't really seem-important."

In the center of the newsroom editor Andy Cremedas sits in a swivel chair twisting in all directions -- toward the phone or the typewriter or the radio. Along the periphery of his central position is Tamburo's territory: the wall where the eight wire machines spew reams of yellow paper, the wall with the Xerox and Rapidex machines and the wall lined with three small offices where men are huddled over typewriters as Tamburo points toward them: "They're the corrspondents," she says reverently. "They get to go on the air."

Cremedas, from time to time, extends an arm holding a piece of paper, which Tamburo swoops up and delivers to the appropriate machine, office or correspondent.

"Run . . . six," says Cremedas. Tamburo translates this to mean "Make six copies of this John Anderson press release."

"I can read Andy's mind," says Tamburo. "He has certain ways he likes to do things. When he hands me something he doesn't have to even finish sentences."

And she speaks in her own office shorthand. A cartridge tape is a "cart" and the verb "to fax" means to put paper in the Rapifax machine and send it to New York.

The machines, too, have their own form of communication. A low buzz sounding from the Rapifax when it is suffering a paper jam sends Tamburo scurrying to silence its cry. "I know just which button to push," she says proudly. "When I first came here that machine scared me the most. Now I baby-sit it. It's behaving very well."

"Essential, absolutely essential, says Cremedas of the work done by Tamburo and five other desk assistants who sign on at $140 a week but augment that with overtime, night differentials, periodical raises and a food allowance when they work longer than 10-hour shifts.

But when asked about opportunities for desk assistants to call some shots of their own, he diplomatically responds, "We have correspondents. We have editors. And we have desk assistants. Everybody does their own thing."

The office, however, is egalitarian in that everyone, even a correspondent, makes the coffee when it's his or her turn. Tamburo sometimes makes preliminary calls on potential stories, and Cremedas often asks her if she thinks the story is worthy of coverage.

"If it weren't for those little responsibilities you could get in a terrible rut," Tamburo says, adding, "Everything is unionized and the positions are very clear. You can only go so far before you're crossing over the wire.

"Like when I'm doing the assignment calls I can get all the imformation," she says. "But in the end it's Andy who has to type out that assignment sheet and put his name on it. In the end I hand it over to him, and that is painful."

But despite the office hierarchy Tamburo cites only one case of outright condescension: "I was yelled at over the phone by a correspondent. I was only here two months when I answered the phone. I know Andy always like to know who's on the line, so I said, 'May I ask who is calling?' and this correspondent bit my head off because I didn't know who he was.

"It would be fun to be on the other end and be the person telling the other person what to do," says Tamburo. "Most of us get rather weary being the person who always has to be told. But what can you do?"

Most leave.

The lifespan of an ABC desk assistant is generally estimated at one year before they are promoted in the network, take a job with an affiliate station or leave the business.

"After a year you're ready for bigger and better things," says Tamburo, "They (ABC) expect it. If we didn't get these spurts of ambition they would begin to wonder about us."

And right now, Tamburo's resume is floating around stations in the Baltimore-Washington area as she awaits "a nibble."

"I'd sure like something to happen soon; I'm getting anxious," she said. "I hope I won't be here more than a few months more. But I'm confident someone out there will realize I'm competent to handle some more responsibility."

And on this Labor Day, while the head of ABC radio is sailing out on the Bay, Vicki Tamburo is working the 6:30 a.m. shift.