Washington Star board chairman Joe L Allbritton, who mysteriouly removed his name as publisher from the newspaper's editorial page masthead Mosnday, has now given his initials to the television station he also owns here.
Washington Star Communications Inc., the parent company of the newspaper and WMAL-TV, has applied to the Federal Communications Commission for permission to change the television station's name to WJLA-TV.
aA change in call letters is required because the American BRoadcasting Co., which has agreed to buy radio stations WMAL-AM andWMAL-FM form Allbritton for $16 million, has the right to retain the WMAL designation.
According to Robert L. Nelson, executive vice president of Star Communications, the choice of Allbritton's initials as call letters for the station is not intended to suggest that the Texas entreapreneur has decided to retain ownership of the profitable television station and sell the newspaper, which operates at a substantial loss. He is required by the FCC to sell one or the other by January, 1979.
Nelson said that numerous combinations of letters were submitted to the FCC and most were ruled out because they conflicted with other call letters in the area. WJLA was chosen, he said, because it was considered graphically better and easier to say than the remaining choice, WDVM, which stood for District, VIrgina and Maryland.
In another development, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service announced that representatives of the Star and 10 unions representing 1,500 employees would meet today at the service's headquarters here in an effort to reach an agreement on new contracts. The meeting was called at the request of the Star.
The unions and the company have been meeting with federal mediators since December. Their contracts expired on Dec.31, but they have agreed to extend them beyond that date while talks continue.
According to union sources, the Star is offering an economic package totaling $35 a week over three years, with nothing in the first year, either $20 ol $15 the second year and the remainder of the $35 in the third year.
An accounting firm hired by the unions has just completed an audit of the Star's books to determine whether the paper's economic condition is so poor that a wage freeze during 1977 is justified. All Star unions except the printers' union, which has a long-term contract, accepted a wage freeze for 1976 to help keep the Star alive. The results of the audit are expected on Friday.
In the meantime John P. McGoff, the Michigan publisher who lost out to Allbritton in an effert to buy the Star 2 1/2years ago, is back in Washington. According to a source close to McGoff, he is still interested in buying the Star and there have been some third-party contacts toward that end.
The elimination of Allbritton's name from the Star's masthead has caused a mixture of puzzlement, uncertainty and worry among Star employees. Speculation was widespread in the paper's newsroom, but reporters and other editorial employees repeatedly said they did not know what the masthead change signified. Allbritton, who is out of town, could not be reached for comment.
"The overriding mood is kind of "irritation at not knowing," said one Star newsman, who asked not to be identified.
There was a considerable range of views among Star employees, who have stayed with the newspaper as it battled to regain its financial footing. One reporter accepted the change in the masthead as a minor development, saying he had not sought to find out its significance. Yet another said, "I'm absolutely terrified. We've lived on such tenterhooks so long that the slightest twist turns to the hook in all of us."