It was a joke. Really, it was. Two Saturdays ago, "Weekend Edition" host Scott Simon told National Public Radio listeners about a company that sold only elaborate descriptions of items, nothing more. That such a company could exist in today's business climate was not so unbelievable, it seems. The bit, about a fictitious Iowa company called "Doug Be'net," was so believable, in fact, that NPR got letters and phone calls from listeners who weren't sure what to think about it. A sample, from a Vienna, Va., woman: "Doug Be'net, on Saturday's edition, is the April Fools' joke for this year -- isn't it?" Alan Stone, who responds to listener inquiries for NPR, took a call from a Federal Trade Commission employee who wasn't certain it was a joke and wanted more information about "Doug Be'net." He said NPR received "about a dozen calls from people who wanted to contact the company, including one man who hoped to sell video images to Doug Be'net. When I told him it was an April Fools' joke, he laughed really hard but sounded a little embarrassed." Simon, who wrote the 12 1/2-minute piece, told listeners that customers could dial a toll-free number and choose from 24 monthly selections ranging from just under $16 to nearly $40. Then listeners heard the Doug Be'net operator run down the list: "Item No. 1: Cajun Jubilee -- pungent, romantic, savory. The spirit of the bayous can be yours for just $24.95. Item No. 2 ..." "All that exists of the items are those words," reported Simon. "Doug Be'net is an inventory of ideas and adjectives rather than products. The company stocks no actual merchandise, and therefore, spends no money on manufacturing, consumer warranties or product maintenance." Simon reported that the company had $1.5 million in sales last year and said it's aimed "at the same professionals who rent art movie videos and get gourmet food to go. Consumers with limited time but expansive tastes." Robert Krulwich, CBS economic correspondent and occasional commentator for "Weekend Edition," told listeners that "it's really a very sensible, and in many ways, it's really a brilliant idea and really you have to think, 'Thank God, we got it before Japan!' " April Fools' gags are an NPR tradition. Last year during "All Things Considered," listeners heard a typically thorough NPR report on the proposed sale of Arizona to Canada. The feature included an interview with former governor Bruce Babbitt, who had already lost his bid for the presidency and claimed that Canadians had "greater faith in my ability to lead." Less than two weeks ago, NPR received two letters requesting an update on the proposed sale. Other gags, many of which have been written by Simon, have included a feature on a pickle ranch in Michigan, the discovery of George Orwell's only radio play, "1986," and a look at "The Last Surviving Reservoir of Fondue Cheese," located in the small Wisconsin town of Vince Lombardi Fondue Falls. Over the years, the stories have become "more elaborate, longer and have a sharper edge. We create something that isn't plausible and make it plausible," said Simon last week. "It's a great deal of fun," but "first and last, we are satirizing ourselves." Proof of that is found in the company name featured 11 days ago. Down the hall and around the corner from Simon's office sits a man named Douglas J. Bennet, NPR president. Dexter Manley Makes the Crossover Dexter Manley, the Redskins' bombastic defensive lineman, signed with WPGC-FM (95.5) Friday to provide two weekly sports reports during the football season. For the last two seasons Manley was heard five mornings a week with Doug (Greaseman) Tracht on WWDC-FM (101.1), but according to Manley's agent, Roy Robertson, DC-101 decided against exercising its third-year option with Manley. Manley won't be earning the same money as at DC-101, where his contract called for $300,000 over three years, but will be paid more per report, Robertson said. He declined to be more specific. WPGC, a contemporary crossover music station that's said to be a favorite of Manley's, has offered little sports since the early '80s, when then-Redskin quarterback Joe Theismann hosted morning drive during the off-season. DC-101 is still looking for a replacement for Manley. Around the Dial WTOP-AM (1500) will carry the rest of the Orioles' 162-game baseball season, with Jon Miller and Joe Angel providing color and play-by-play coverage ... Former WWRC-AM (980) conservative talk host Bob Kwesell has dropped plans to move to Tampa's WFLA-AM and has signed a one-year contract with WNTR-AM (1050). Kwesell has been at WNTR since mid-February when WWRC let him go. ... WMAL-AM's (630) seventh annual Gross National Parade will be held April 30, but tomorrow is the entry deadline. To enter, call Amy Rosen at 686-3215.