Channel 9 yesterday announced that it will change its call letters from WDVM to WUSA in the near future . . .

It will be the third set of call letters for the powerful CBS affiliate in the past eight years . . .

The call letters WUSA currently are those of another Gannett Broadcasting-owned station, Channel 11, the NBC affiliate in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, which yesterday announced it will become KARE-TV on June 11 . . .

Currently, W*USA uses a flashy asterisk in its logo but no decision has been made at Nine whether to adopt the asterisk . . .

Spokespersons for both Gannett (which publishes the Rosslyn-based USA Today) and Nine yesterday insisted the decision to switch call signs was made by each local station . . .

Hank Price, director of programming and marketing for Nine, said yesterday that "Gannett asked us if we'd like the WUSA call letters" when the communications conglomerate took over the Washington station as part of its purchase of then-owner Evening News Association earlier this year . . .

"It was kind of left up to us. But we always thought they'd be very appropriate call letters for the nation's capital" . . .

Ron Townsend, WDVM vice president and general manager, said the timetable for the switch in call signs is still indefinite, and Price emphasized that the station "wants to be very careful" in preparing its campaign announcing the change and subsequent design adjustments -- "It's not something you can do in a couple of weeks . . .

"I'd say three or four weeks," Townsend predicted . . .

Roy Stewart, chief of the video services division of the mass media bureau at the Federal Communications Commission, said yesterday that "generally, with no challenges, it will take just a couple of days to act on the request of the stations" . . .

Townsend said lawyers for WDVM are preparing the request for the FCC. Stewart said he hadn't seen the WUSA request for a change . . .

Channel 9 went on the air Jan. 16, 1949 as WTOP, call letters that belonged to the CBS radio station here (which originally had been WJSV -- for "Jesus Saves Virginia") . . .

The TOP stood for "top of the dial" . . .

On June 26, 1978, the Evening News Association of Detroit took over WTOP in a swap with Post-Newsweek Stations for the former's NBC affiliate in the Motor City. That day, the call letters became WDVM -- for the District, Virginia and Maryland.

While the call letters emphasized the station's service area, the rather clumsy cluster was not used in station promotions . . .

The venerable "One and Only" promotion slogan -- dropped by ENA after years of use by Post-Newsweek when ENA took over, but later revived when the station realized its long-term value -- will be kept with the new call letters, Townsend said yesterday . . .

Gannett also owns KUSA-TV in Denver . . .

In Minneapolis, WUSA President and General Manager Joe Franzgrote said yesterday in a statement that "in releasing the call letters to WDVM" it was felt "the call letters KARE . . . symbolize the care and concern we strive to show in our programming to our viewers and to our community as a whole" . . .

WUSA has used those call letters since July 4, 1985. Previously it was WTCN. . . .

Also in the News

CBS News'"West 57th Street" continues to slump in the ratings, notching only a 7.0 national Nielsen rating and a 13 percent audience share Wednesday night in the 8 p.m. time slot (the popular Billy Graham Crusade, seen on many CBS affiliates, including Channel 9 here, was a factor) . . .

Next Wednesday, "West 57th" moves to 10 p.m. but CBS Entertainment has switched signals and instead of using "Dallas" reruns at 9 p.m. as a lead-in will use "Airwolf" in that time slot ("Dallas" has been pulled from the Summer Schedule entirely) . . .

The hope had been that the later Wednesday time would help the magazine, but meanwhile, its 7.7 average rating over the first six weeks of a scheduled 13-week run has been noticed by network programmers. A story in The New York Times yesterday quoted CBS Entertainment President B. Donald Grant as saying "the odds are against" the program's chances to find a permanent place on the network's primetime schedule . . .

That remark -- hinting at tensions between the CBS News and Entertainment divisions -- brought a heated reply from CBS News President Van Gordon Sauter in a memo to his troops yesterday . . .

He called the "comments" in the story "ill-advised and disruptive, particularly if they are interpreted as constituting a verbal cancellation" . . .

Sauter said later the current 13-week run is guaranteed and he and an assistant to CBS Broadcast Group President Gene F. Jankowski both emphasized in telephone conversations that Jankowski, who helped get "West 57th" on the schedule, is still very much behind the program . . .

"No decision has been reached," Sauter said in his memo, "nor will one be, until the broadcast has a chance to establish itself in its new time period" . . .

" . . . 'West 57th' is in the schedule because it is perceived by CBS News and the CBS management as a broadcast of merit and promise" . . .

"It is inevitably more convenient to acquire and cancel ersatz information broadcasts supplied by outsiders than to nurture a legitimate news broadcast to success" . . .

Added Sauter: "In this context it may seem unfair to encourage creative people to risk careers and reputations in a doomed area. Over the past several years some of our best people Sauter presumably was referring to Bill Moyers and Charles Kuralt, among others have entered that arena and much of what they produced was important and of value" . . .

Sauter pointed out that in its first season (1968-69) " '60 Minutes' ranked 83rd among primetime broadcasts" . . .

"But for all that, we will continue to work for the success of 'West 57th.' There are many in this company who believe in it. Our obligation is to get quality journalism on the air and to keep it there" . . .

On a Much Happier Note

ABCNews Correspondent Lark McCarthy will marry James H. Williams Jr., professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, in a private wedding here Saturday, June 14 . . .

For the second year in a row, NBC correspondent Marvin Kalb and producers Anthony Potter and William Turque have been named broadcast winners of the annual Edwin M. Hood Awards presented by the National Press Club for "excellence in the reporting of American foreign policy and related issues" . . .

The NBC team won for its April 1985 NBC White Paper, "Vietnam: Lessons of a Lost War." Last year the same trio won for a documentary on the "Star Wars" program . . .

The Justice Department announced yesterday that it has tentatively agreed to modify a 1980 antitrust consent decree against CBS that limits the network's in-house production of primetime programming. The move would increase CBS programming from 2 1/2 to five hours a week . . .

Channel 20 will air a live broadcast by the Boston Pops from 8 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, July 5, the orchestra's traditional July 4th concert along the Charles River . . .

Speaking of the Fourth of July, a story that will probably create some fireworks before the holiday is over concerns ABC's payment of $10 million to the organizers of the 100th birthday celebration for the Statue of Liberty for "exclusive" rights to broadcast major elements of the five-day celebration, which starts July 2 . . .

Already CBS, NBC and the Cable News Network have complained about ABC's plans to prevent access to public officials and the events in which they are participating during the weekend . . .

The controversy arose after an ABC publicity sheet promised exclusive coverage of the opening ceremonies July 3, at which President Reagan will be introduced, speak, turn on lights to show off the restored statue and bestow the Medal of Liberty upon 12 naturalized citizens . . .

Yesterday, White House spokesman Larry Speakes told a briefing that the White House wants President Reagan's participation to be as open as possible to coverage by all news media . . .

Speakes was asked about an arrangement by which David Wolper, producer of the extravaganza, sold TV rights to key portions of it to ABC . . .

He said White House officials have had conversations with Wolper's representatives "on what should be covered and what should not . . .

"Our basic position is that as much as possible should be open to all media," he said.

Speakes said several inquiries from other TV networks had been received and added, "a large amount of the president's participation is open" . . .

Keep an eye on this one, TV Column fans . . .

Wait, There's More

David Hartman's ABC special on national traffic problems averaged an 11.4 national Nielsen rating and a 21 percent audience share Wednesday night . . .

Corporationfor Public Broadcasting President Martin Rubenstein (class of '57) will receive a distinguished alumnus award from Brooklyn College June 10. He's being honored for "a distinguished career in radio and TV spanning 24 years and his effective leadership in that industry" . . .

The CBS News bureau here has named Randy Wolfe as a producer for "CBS Evening News." He was previously a producer in the Chicago bureau . . .

Gumby and his sidekick Pokey, "claymation" characters from the 1950s, will debut Monday in the 3 p.m. time slot on Channel 5 . . .