Betty Wolden Endicott sat at her desk in a corner office at WTTG drinking coffee from a mug and tapping her cigarette. Along one wall, five television screens flickered with Channel 5's programming, plus ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS, so the top female television executive in the Washington market, the general manager and news director of the nation's No. 1-ranked independent station, could keep an eye on her competition.

At 46, Endicott is a tall, slender blond who generates enthusiasm and energy. Her voice is low, her laugh quick, her style friendly but businesslike. Since September, she has been running WTTG, the jewel in Rupert Murdoch's fledgling Fox Broadcasting chain. For two decades, she has covered and assigned television news stories in Washington. Twenty-five years ago, she was one of few women in what was primarily a man's world.

"We used to say you used to be able to count women's news directors on one mitten, and now you can count them on a glove," she said. "Fox -- they're wonderful people ... It's unusual for a news director to be a general manager, and second, a woman. I think they've put a lot of confidence in me and I don't want to let them down."

Because so few women work in the world of television management, and because she retains the title of news director, Endicott has had to create her own style as she goes about retooling WTTG. She is one of the few general managers in the country with a news background -- most come from sales -- and she still thinks of the newsroom as home.

"It makes you tear your hair out and you think, how can you get all this done and do it well? It isn't that you lack the confidence, but you wonder how someone else would do it ... There are times when I think, 'Let me go back to the safety of the newsroom.'"

As a high school junior in St. Paul, Minn., Endicott took a journalism class and was chosen to co-edit the student newspaper. She went on to the University of Minnesota, where she was faced with a decision. "My adviser was screaming at me to declare a major and I didn't know what I wanted to do. I knew that I didn't want to be a teacher because that wasn't me. And I couldn't stand the sight of blood so I couldn't be a nurse. And what else was there for a girl in 1959?"

But Betty Endicott had one important trait: confidence. "When I was growing up, my mother and dad told me that I could do anything I wanted to do. Well, I believed them. Now I found out that that wasn't totally true, but it was ingrained from the time I was a kid that I could do whatever I want to do. I have an older brother, and he was basically the same: 'Yes, she can come along.' Bill never made a big deal that I was a girl. I guess, looking back, when you think that was the '40s and '50s, that was real unusual."

So, she chose what was then mainly a man's field. "I thought, I'll go into journalism, figuring that you can't really make money at something you liked that much. It was so much fun that I couldn't possibly believe that you could make any money. I didn't think they should even pay you, I liked it so much.

"When I declared the major, a journalism professor said to me that I was wasting my time ... because women don't make it in the news business, and that all we came to college for was to get our MRS. He really just blasted me. There was one other girl in the entire J-school, and she was on an advertising track. One other came in while I was there. So this guy really laid it out.

"I marched down to the journalism office and signed him up as my adviser -- we could pick our own advisers. I thought, 'He's going to be real sorry he said that -- he has to put up with me for three years.' He was real angry. He didn't want to talk to me for months. I'd sit in his office and pester him."

Endicott persevered as a journalism major at Minnesota and joined a sorority, Chi Omega, where her roommate was Patricia Scott, now Rep. Patricia Scott Schroeder (D-Colo.)

"I think the reason we bonded then," said Schroeder, "was that we joined this sorority where we really didn't fit: beautiful girls, blond hair, pageboys, blue eyes, doting daddies. And here were Betty and I: We held the grades up."

Schroeder remembers her friend as "a frantic bridge player -- there was some question as to whether she could stand up, her body was so bent in the shape of a chair. She was also a great performer. We'd have campus carnivals -- she was great in the opera hose and kicks. She always had tremendous enthusiasm. She has more energy in her little finger than anybody else has in her whole body.

"She's also terribly principled. Has very strong feelings about what should happen in TV and in news. At bottom line, she's a journalist. I think dealing with television as entertainment has always bothered her. She would walk out rather than have somebody tell her what to do. She feels very strongly about the ethics of the profession."

But when Endicott was graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1963, she found the going rough. At the St. Paul Pioneer Press, she was told she could work on the women's page. When she protested that she wanted the police beat, the editor "broke out in hysterical laughter. And I said, 'Okay, let me write obits.' He said no, I was a girl. That was when I thought: My mom and dad didn't tell me the truth."

Instead, she worked for the mayor of St. Paul doing press releases and through other reporters learned that United Press International had an opening.

"They did hire me, for $89 a week, which was a terrible cut in salary from a government PR job, working 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. So I'm calling the FBI and the cops and doing the traffic reports, that whole bit. You learned how to work fast and get things done because you didn't have time to mess around. I worked there two years in about the worst section of town, but I got to know the cops and they would check on me ... At the same time, I got great stories from them. It was really fun. We'd chat, then I'd go send the split {local news stories sent on the half-hour}. I loved it, but it was at the point where the shift was just horrendous and I was asking for some relief after two years, and didn't get any, so I just quit."

Her next job was at KSTP-TV in Minneapolis, where owner Stan Hubbard had decided to hire a woman reporter. "I had two years experience {at UPI} so the next day I was covering city hall in Minneapolis for KSTP-TV. No training, nothing. I was on camera. I never got used to it. I preferred to do the story and let someone else be on camera. I was a print journalist, and I've never lost that."

While Endicott was working at KSTP-TV, she was hired away by Irv Margolis, news director of the NBC affiliate in Cleveland, who assigned her to cover politics in Ohio. When Margolis was transferred to NBC's WRC-TV in Washington, he asked her to come along. "I was 26. I got here in time for the civil rights movements, the riots, the antiwar stuff -- a fascinating time to be a reporter in this town. My basic beat was the District building. Twenty years this year." She also continued her relationship with Bob Endicott, an NBC reporter she had met in Ohio and whom she eventually married. He is presently editor of The Reston (Va.) Times, and they have recently divorced.

When Endicott was covering Capitol Hill, one of her fellow reporters was Connie Chung, fresh out of the University of Maryland. "Beautiful, lovely, funny Connie," recalled Endicott. "I used to tell her when we were covering stories together on Capitol Hill, 'Connie, they won't talk to me. Put a bag on your head. You're unfair competition.'"

Chung said she learned by watching Endicott. "I used to follow Betty around and learn from her. I knew that if she was onto a story, she'd get it. And I saw that in an interview, interviewees took Betty seriously. Then she went into management -- it's a tough thing, for a woman, to be in management -- and I admired the way she handled Maury {Chung's husband, Maury Povich}. They have a remarkable relationship."

Povich, formerly host of "Panorama," said, "I always had great confidence in Betty because she was a heck of a reporter. She was considered a reporter's type news director because she had been a reporter. She wasn't caught up in the trappings of title. We had a lot of support. It was one of those things where you just loved to go to work every day. A day doesn't go by when I don't think of her ... She allows people to put a stamp on their performance, especially. She fights the 'sameness' in television news. She's a class news act as well as competitive. And that's good because she's the spokesman for the company in Washington. With the FCC there, you work in a goldfish bowl."

After working as a reporter, producer, assignment editor and executive editor at WRC, Endicott moved to WDVM in January 1980 to become news director, the first woman in Washington to hold that job. "I assumed that a woman -- remember when I came in and put it in context -- didn't last too long as a reporter because you're going to get old and get wrinkles. I also liked the management end ... I loved covering stories, but I liked the overview: I liked to know everything that was going on and I didn't want to be narrowed into one story a day. I wanted to know all of 'em. So I went into the management end, taking ... a big cut in salary. Television management doesn't make anywhere near what reporters make. It was one of the smartest things I did, and it was mainly because I wanted to stay in television news and I didn't think I'd be able to as a reporter.

"Now that's not true today. I don't think aging is a problem any more for women. If they're smart and know what they're doing, they can go on forever. If I had to make the same decision today and wanted to remain a reporter, I would have no hesitation."

Nancy Dickerson, CBS television's first woman correspondent and one of the few women in the field when Endicott got started, now does commentary on WTTG for Endicott. "She's an amazing young woman," said Dickerson. "This is really quite extraordinary, letting women into where they handle money. In a man's world, money is the criterion absolutely.

"She has to make that station go. Her secret is something that we all read about and hear about -- she lets everybody do their thing. She always let reporters go after their stories, even though she didn't agree. For all her sweetness she has to be a tough competitor. And to do that in her arena and still maintain any kind of gentleness and softness is a great talent. She also has one fine sense of humor ...

"She's a feisty, gutsy female on the scene at a time when television is changing. The three networks' preeminence is a thing of the past, with CNN and satellites and now Fox ... That news program is the best in prime time in America ... That's Betty's whole doing."

In December 1982, Endicott left WDVM to become assignment manager of Metromedia's national bureau, a job she relished. "If everything goes right, it's the reporter and the crews who get the credit. If everything falls apart, it's the desk's fault. So you can't win. And I loved every minute of that. I ran the assignment desk for six years at WRC and I ran one over here, and it's the most fun in the world. Always will be my favorite job."

Povich recalled her leaving WDVM as "a falling-out," but said that "the reporters there loved her. Some news directors try to keep their distance from the reporters. But Betty didn't."

In April 1983, Endicott was named news director of WTTG and Povich came back to "Panorama" and to anchor the news. "I arrived here at a time when a great commitment was being made to the newscasts," she said. "When I walked in we had something like five reporters and three crews and writers who had never had a course in journalism, let alone English, I think. They were very nice people but it was a libel waiting to happen. I thought, I'd better keep a close eye on the copy until we can get this fixed ..."

Endicott increased the news and sports staffs, added a theater critic and other feature reporters she calls "icing," until today WTTG's 200 employees include nine full-time reporters, two free-lancers and six commentators, eight news crews and two microwave trucks with engineers.

"We built this tremendous news organization, very feisty, aggressive reporters. It's fascinating."

Endicott tries to staff her station with "a mix of people, of all ages, all backgrounds. You want the young to identify the crazy trends and report on the bar scene and the singles scene. You want the older ones to have the wisdom and the maturity in order to have a good newsroom. It doesn't have anything to do with EEO -- it's because it's right and because you have a better newscast if you have the divergence of opinion and thought."

But Endicott, who stresses professional growth and promotion from within the organization, said she becomes annoyed with reporters whose "goal is to be a star -- they don't want to be the best journalist or the best writer or write the great American novel, which most of us wanted to do until we found out it was hard. And that usually turns me off immediately. The minute I hear that out of someone's mouth, I suggest they go into the entertainment business ... I find enough of it that it upsets me, so I go and talk to J-schools, to make sure they know that journalism's fun, that you never know what you're going to do from one day to the next."

Prime among her projects is WTTG's growing local news presence. Two weeks ago, when she announced the demise of "Panorama," she set up two new staffs to produce monthly prime-time half-hour documentaries and specials emphasizing local issues. The news and investigative unit is under the direction of Joe Saitta; Sandra Pastoor heads the features unit.

Ratings on "Panorama" had been "static for about three years," said Endicott, leading her to conclude that specials during prime time would serve the audience better. The show's former host, Povich, will turn up as host of "A Current Affair," slated to debut June 22 after Five's night news. The nightly show is produced by Fox's WNYW in New York. Endicott said she hopes to divert younger viewers from "Nightline."

"I like to think of it as leading, that we're on the cutting edge," said Endicott of WTTG's increased local news coverage. "Nobody else has ever done this ... We're the only one who does the full hour seven days a week. We're doing it Sunday night when people are starting to shift their attention back to work. It makes much more sense. And there's plenty of news on Sundays. Friday is still an important day for us, that's weekend.

"The thing that was told to us almost from day one when Fox took over was, throw out the old thinking and try the new. Nothing is too crazy or off the wall. If it doesn't work, try something else, let your imagination soar."

Fox announced plans to buy WTTG from Metromedia in May 1985, and gave Endicott the job of general manager last September after abruptly firing Bob O'Connor on what Endicott called "Black Friday." O'Connor had come from the Metromedia station in New York, trading jobs with WTTG's Kevin O'Brien.

"I certainly never thought I'd be general manager. That was not in my goals. It really came out of the blue. I was honored. That was the first time I ever stepped back and said, 'Wait a minute.' I like to know what I'm doing, and I didn't feel I knew enough about the job. But then I thought, Oh, the heck with it, I'd learn. The key was that I had wonderful people working with me -- I let all the department heads run their programs and I just watched television." She laughed. "I just want to stay here for a while and make this the best television station in Washington. Competition is real good here, and I like that."

For Endicott, competition exists not only in the newsroom and in the ratings but on the playing field as well. "I had a news director who used to kick wastebaskets. It used to get our attention. Well, I tried it once in the newsroom -- I just ruined my feet," she joked. Instead, she took up soccer and for five years has played for the Fast Breakers, a Montgomery County recreational team for women over 30. Last week, the team took over first place in its league.

"I get my aggression out on Saturdays -- I don't kick wastebaskets, I play soccer. Otherwise I wouldn't exercise or do anything. I play defense. I'm a fullback. I used to play midfield, but that's a lot of running. As you get older it's far better to let the quick forwards and the midfielders take most of the field. I protect the goal. I take it personally: 'Don't come near my goal.' Wouldn't you like that on your tombstone? 'She never gave up a goal.' She laughed.

"I betcha I'm the only general manager in the country that plays soccer."

Endicott, who also plays golf and skis, said it was soccer that taught her what men learn through playing team sports: "You learn how to lose the heartbreaker and you learn how to win the close ones. There's nothing quite like it. After the first season we had a team party and invited the spouses, but we didn't care if they were there or not; it was for us. And we were in our cleats and we could care less about them. It wasn't that anybody disliked them or anything like that, but it was the closeness of the team. So I understand a whole lot better the dynamics, why guys go out after the softball game and have a beer.

"It helped me with my son, too, because I'd always told Matthew, 'Never argue with refs.' Okay, so who gets yellow-carded -- me. Worst call I've ever seen. The ref said if I kept mouthing off he'd change it to a red. Normally I don't have much of a temper and I try to control it, but he was so wrong and I was furious and he held up that yellow card and I kept right on. So when Matthew did get a red card in a game, we talked about it. But I understood. But I didn't berate him as I would have. And I also understood how your temper can go out of control when you think you're right."

Endicott, whose parents are Norwegian-American, said, "In my family, if you didn't talk sports, you didn't talk. That's what the conversation was: sports and church." Her father, who was head of security for a bank, had played center on the University of Minnesota's basketball team. He also coached and worked as a referee and umpire, and Betty often traveled the state with him. "I scored baseball when I was 7 years old. I thought I was helping my dad, but what he was doing was trying to keep me off the field."

The other conversational topic in the Wolden family was religion. "It was the joke that my mom and dad had the keys to the church because we were there all the time." She was then and is now a Presbyterian, taught Sunday school for five years and still substitutes.

"To me faith is what gets you through not only the bad times but the good times," she said. "It's not something you turn to only when things go wrong. You should be thankful for all you have. Someone said that on Judgment Day, God will ask you whether you enjoyed all the things he gave you."

Endicott credits her Presbyterian background with certain tenents around which she has built her life: "Calvinism gives you basic foundations of hard work, caring for those around you, and gives you direction. In the churches I've attended, there's always been a spirit of cameraderie. And Presbyterians have always ordained women; women are elders. I've been asked, but I have not had the opportunity in terms of time."

Endicott admits that life on the leading edge brings with it sacrifices. "Your time is never your own. And I think families sometimes suffer. On the other hand, my kids grew up in television. They thought everybody worked on television. I think they had opportunities they never would have gotten any other way." Her daughter Sarah is a 17-year-old junior at Churchill High School in Potomac, Md.; Matthew is 15 and attends Cabin John Junior High. "God gives us teen-agers to teach us patience," she said. "They're terrific. I think I'd be a lousy mother if I were home full-time. I think my kids in the long run will know they have a better deal ... What I hope our daughters will do is understand the tradeoffs. Our daughters will have it easier."

Would she do anything different as a parent? "Probably not. Oh, I'd like to go back and do some things smarter. What would I tell them? I guess I'd tell them what my mom and dad told me: You can do anything you want."