FOUR CITIES ARE GEARING up to test a new Army computer system designed to save time and money by instantly transforming tape-recorded comments by construction-site inspectors into neatly typed reports.

"If there is a critical flaw, our system will . . . stop work before you dump five pounds of concrete over a cracked weld," said Frank Kearney, team leader at the Army's Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in Champaign, Ill., which designed the system.

Using the system, inspectors wearing tape recorders and microphone headsets can dictate their observations from the job site. A voice-recognition device "listens" to the tape, prints a report and speeds it to a supervisor, who then approves the work or orders corrections. The system even converts slang and foreign languages into English.

Tests are planned this year in Cincinnati; Fresno, Calif.; Salt Lake City; and Fort Carson, Colo. Army engineers will help set up and program the computer hardware. The cities will pay for the systems.

Inspectors usually write down observations in the field and sometimes "make notes in the darnedest places," Kearney said. They may skip some items to avoid writing them down, and they may not fill out forms completely, he said. Even if everything is done perfectly, it can take days or weeks to get the final report typed. Kearney said that can lead to costly corrections, or missing contractual deadlines while a contractor fixes a problem.

"It's more natural to speak than to write, so the inspector is more likely to log in more information," said Kearney.

All of the hardware for the system -- including tape recorder, voice recognition device, computer, and printer -- costs about $7,500.

JOE MONTANA MAY PLAY for San Francisco but his heart seems to be in Southern California.

The 49ers quarterback and his actress-model bride, Jennifer Wallace, will return from their honeymoon in about two weeks to their new home near Lunada Bay on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, south of Los Angeles. No selling price was given for the 5-year-old Mediterranean-style house overlooking the Pacific, but a broker who requested anonymity and was not associated with the sale said the asking price was $765,000.

The 4,000-square-foot house has a gated courtyard, four bedrooms, a den, family room, swimming pool, spa and "lots of windows so you can see the sunsets, and on a clear day, Catalina," Jean Steubs in the Palos Verdes Estates office of Very Important Properties said. Steubs represented the Montanas.

Steubs said the couple bought here, despite its distance from San Francisco, because "a lot of Joe's endorsement work TV commercials comes from here. Another reason is a lot of Jennifer's work is here too."

IF OWNING AN ENTIRE town has any appeal, Johnsondale -- A tiny California Sierra community that was a logger's camp and sawmill for 42 years before the mill officially shut down in 1979 -- is on the market again.

It was sold about two years ago. "But that fell through," said Rolling Hills Estates real estate broker R. L. (Dick) Burns, who has the listing now. The owners, Sierra Forest Products of Porterville, are asking $3.75 million.

The 750-acre property, 25 miles north of Kernville and about 65 miles northeast of Bakersfield, includes 80 cabins, a general store, a post office, a community hall with a stage, and a school, said Burns, who figures that it would be "great for a church group or corporate retreat." However, the town is a fixer-upper. At best, Johnsondale was a clapboard collection of simple structures for the workers and their families with unpaved roads extended five miles beyond Roads End, which is where the road ended before Walter S. Johnson and four partners established a logging operation in the area in 1937.

Even so, at the 4,000-foot elevation, the town has pristine air, some redwood stands and a backdrop of snow-covered mountains. In its heyday, it had a population of 750, Burns said, but now there are "just a caretaker and a few mill employees."

The town is in the Sequoia National Forest about 12 miles from the proposed Peppermint Mountain Ski Area, which Burns conceded "has been in the works for years and could take 10 more years to get into operation." If and when that happens, though, the ski area would attract up to 10,000 skiers a day, he said. Johnsondale is also near the Kern River and Lake Isabella.

THE NOW-EMPTY SITE of the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville should be turned into a "festive retail complex" with lots of theme restaurants, unique shops and perhaps a railroad museum, according to a team of consultants.

The Harrison Price Co. of Los Angeles told the Knoxville City Council it would be a good idea to reopen a restaurant atop the 266-foot Sunsphere tower and build a hotel adjoining the wedge-shaped U.S. Pavilion.

"It is evident that the most efficient way to accomplish the goal of maximizing onsite traffic would be through the development of a Knoxville festive retail complex," the Harrison Price report said.

The consultants said they envisioned a development for Knoxville along the lines of Baltimore's Harborplace, Norfolk's Waterside Mall or Salt Lake City's Trolley Square.

The Washington Metropolitan Committee of the Community Association Institute (WMCCAI) has scheduled a one-day workshop to provide attorneys, developers, architects, engineers, public officials and homeowners with information on legal rights, technical issues, inspection procedures and practical approaches to assure successful resolution of warranty claims. For more information about this seminar, to be held March 19, contact WMCCAI, 684-8654.

IN THE BUSINESS . . . The largest mall in Stafford County history is being planned at the intersection of I-95 and Route 610, a site known as Aquia Corners, according to county officials. Plans call for a $20 million project on 42 acres, including two department stores, a supermarket, multiscreen theater and a 100-room motel. The project is to be a joint venture of the Frank D. Wallberg Cos. and the National Capital Cos. . . . The Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza Hotel in Rockville has won a Holiday Inn design award. The award was based on practicality of design and interior and exterior beauty.

PERSONNEL FILE . . . The Realty Capital Group has announced a number of appointments: Marc Abrams becomes vice president-director, equity planning; Joseph Brancucci, vice president-director, marketing; Lynne Caroon, vice president, production operations; Ann Condit, vice president, secondary marketing; Michael Daniels, vice president, loan servicing; Michael Edmonds, vice president, rate production programs; Gaspar Martinez-Johnson, vice president, operations; Christine Owens, vice president, secondary marketing; Robert Richardson, vice president-director, mortgage services; Peggy Smith, vice president, controller; James VeShancey, vice president, business development . . . Julien J. Studley Inc. has named Lois A. Zambo to corporate vice president . . . At the J. E. Robert Co., Stephen D. Weinstock has been named asset manager, commercial properties, and Val P. Hawkins has been named senior vice president of the asset management division . . . Richard J. Nenna has joined Loan America Financial Corp. as vice president for the Northeast region.