For the first time in its 14-year history, Howard University's WHUR-FM (96.3) has been able to translate its loyal following and respectable ratings into domination of the local market to become the first black-owned station ever to lead a quarterly survey of the Arbitron Ratings.

WHUR, an urban contemporary station that is geared to the black adult market and plays mainly black artists, has spent the last few months refining its format. It added a subformat -- Softones, six hours of ballads starting at 9 a.m -- and adopted a logo -- "Washington's Superstation" -- but kept the "Quiet Storm" evening format even after its host Melvin Lindsey left for rival WKYS-FM (93.9).

"It is a multitude of things we have been doing. We hit the right formula," said James Watkins, acting general manager.

WHUR has been plagued by internal problems in recent years, including the firing of its general manager last July, but Watkins says the listeners only pay attention to that for a brief time. "When you look at the growing pains, you can say we have scored a touchdown but now we have to go for the extra points."

In general the fall 1985 Arbitrons showed a downward trend for many stations, despite format juggling or personnel switches. "It's a crapshoot," said Eileen Griffin, program director of WMAL-AM (630), which improved some in the new ratings -- to a 7.1 share -- but is still well below its 9.7 share and No. 1 slot of a year ago. "Looking at the decline in shares, someone should have a 15 share. With the increased quality of so many of the stations, it is more difficult to keep listener loyalty," said Griffin. The Redskins' season, whether lackluster or winning, always has some impact on WMAL's fall book. "I think their less-than-Super Bowl performance didn't hurt us," Griffin said.

In the country music column, WPKX-FM (105.9) showed what is believed to be its lowest ratings in recent memory, a 1.9 share, while its chief competitor, WMZQ-FM (98.7), dropped from a 4.1 to a 3.5 share. KIX Country has been handicapped by a weak signal, but station management hopes last month's installation of a new antenna and an upcoming promotions campaign will increase penetration into Montgomery and other Maryland counties.

Continuity did help several stations, especially WXTR-FM (104.1), the all-oldies station that had its highest ratings ever with a 2.7 share, and WTOP-AM (1500), which had its second-highest rating ever and its best fall survey ever. "November was a newsy month and in our case bad news was good news. Also we had a cliffhanger of a World Series," said Holland Cooke, WTOP news director.

As far as WHUR's main music competitors go, WDJY-FM (100.3) showed some growth and WKYS slipped slightly. Brute Bailey, WDJY program director, attributed its success to solidifying the format of "five strong songs in a row" and to its community programs aimed at black adults under 35.

The fall 1985 Arbitron Ratings released this week and taken Sept. 19 to Dec. 11, with the highest number of the usable 2,000 diaries returned from Prince George's County and the District, are as follows:

Rank/Station/Fall 1985/Summer 1985/Spring 1985

1. WHUR-FM 8.6 7.8 6.5 2. WGAY-FM 8.0 8.6 9.0 3. WMAL-AM 7.1 6.7 6.4 4. WKYS-FM 7.0 7.5 7.1 5. WWDC-FM 6.5 6.5 6.8 6. WTOP-AM 4.5 4.0 3.9 7. WRQX-FM 4.3 5.7 5.7 8. WAVA-FM 4.0 3.9 4.8 WLTT-FM 4.0 3.9 3.9 9. WDJY-FM 3.8 3.1 2.8 10. WMZQ-FM 3.5 4.1 4.6 11. WCLY-FM/WPGC-AM 3.4 3.8 3.8 12. WASH-FM 2.7 3.0 3.1 WXTR-FM/AM 2.7 2.3 2.0 WGMS-FM/AM 2.7 2.1 3.2 13. WBMW-FM 2.4 2.1 1.4 14. WWRC-AM 2.1 1.9 2.4 15. WPKX-FM 1.9 2.7 3.1 16. WHFS-FM 1.8 1.1 1.0 17. WTKS-FM 1.5 1.1 1.2 18. WOL-AM 1.2 1.0 0.5 19. WYCB-AM 1.0 1.1 1.7 Special Events

Tomorrow at 1 p.m. Jim London and Mary Ball of WMZQ will host a party in memory of the late Elvis Presley, sponsored by the Presley Museum at Potomac Mills Mall in Woodbridge . . . Don Geronimo and Mike O'Meara of WAVA-FM (105.1) will broadcast live from 5:30 to 10 a.m. from the new "The Living Seas" pavilion at Epcot Center in Florida next week. On Wednesday for an hour Geronimo will don a wet suit, boots and a specially made microphone-mask and broadcast from the inside of a 6-million-gallon tank with dolphins, sharks and, one hopes, some friendly fish . . . The DC 101 Rockers of WWDC-FM (101.1) meet the Baltimore Orioles in a charity basketball game 8 p.m. Monday at Fairfax High School . . . On Wednesday, which is the late Martin Luther King Jr.'s actual birthday, WOL-AM (1450) will have nine hours of special programming, including interviews with people who worked with King and recordings of his speeches. WKYS will broadcast "King: A Musical Tribute," narrated by actor Brock Peters, from 1 to 4 p.m.