Ed Schultz, a onetime sportscaster and conservative radio talk-show personality who redefined himself as an outspoken liberal on radio and TV and for years hosted one of MSNBC’s highest-rated prime-time programs, died July 5 at his home in Washington. He was 64.
His son, professional golfer Dave Schultz, announced the death. The cause was not immediately disclosed.
Mr. Schultz was a college football star who was forced to reassess his future when he failed in his efforts to become a player in the National Football League. “It was the biggest disappointment I had ever had to deal with,” he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in 2011. “It took a few years before I realized there was life after football.”
He soon found his niche in broadcasting, first as a TV sports reporter in Fargo, N.D., and later as a play-by-play football and basketball announcer for North Dakota State University.
In 1992, he began a conservative political talk show on a Fargo radio station and became a high-plains version of Rush Limbaugh. Loud and aggressive on the air, he often railed at the homeless and unemployed, saying, “How about getting a job?”
“I was pretty much a warmonger and a pretty greedy guy,” he told The Washington Post in 2005. “I always wanted to make as much money as I possibly could and felt the downtrodden didn’t deserve a break.”
During the 1990s, Mr. Schultz began a political transformation after he met his second wife, Wendy Noack, a psychiatric nurse. Their first luncheon date, Mr. Schultz wrote in his 2004 autobiography, “Straight Talk From the Heartland,” took place at the cafeteria of a Salvation Army homeless shelter, where she worked.
He learned that many of the people he met at the shelter were veterans, writing, “I got a lump in my throat, and it wasn’t the baloney [sandwich].”
By 2000, Mr. Schultz announced that he had become a Democrat — although of the “gun-totin’, red meat-eatin’ ” variety. He considered himself a liberal, although he remained opposed to abortion rights.
“The Ed Schultz Show,” his radio program originating in Fargo, went into national syndication in 2004 as one of the country’s few liberal radio talk shows. At its peak, the show had more than 3 million listeners a week on more than 150 stations.
Mr. Schultz became a consistent critic of the administration of George W. Bush, and he disparaged “the righties” of the conservative TV and radio commentariat as “mean-spirited and intentionally dishonest.” He aimed for working-class “Joe Beercan” listeners he believed had been ignored by the liberal elite.
Stylistically, his show resembled the conservative programs he challenged, with hard-rock and country music fillers, all held together by Mr. Schultz’s blustery, combative manner. He often interrupted his callers in mid-sentence with a stern, “Wait a second!”
In 2009, Mr. Schultz moved to New York to become host of MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” in the 9 p.m. time slot. He brought a loosely scripted, free-flowing style to the cable network and was a resounding success in his early years. He scored higher ratings than his opposite number at CNN, Anderson Cooper, yet he was far behind his conservative competitors on Fox News.
Meanwhile, Mr. Schultz continued to host his daily radio program, on which he denounced conservative broadcaster Laura Ingraham in 2011 as “a right-wing slut.” He apologized in public and voluntarily asked for a one-week suspension from his MSNBC show.
“Radio is about emotion,” he said. “That was a moment when I got carried away with mine.”
Over the next few years, Mr. Schultz’s ratings faltered as MSNBC moved his show from one time slot to another. “The Ed Show” was canceled in 2015.
The following year, he resurfaced as the anchor of “News With Ed Schultz” on RT America, a cable and online network previously known as Russia Today — and described by Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, as “an instrument of the Russian state.”
At MSNBC, Mr. Schultz had said Russian president Vladimir Putin was “crippling” his country, but in his new job he appeared to undergo yet another political change of heart.
“The Clinton camp is trying to do all it can to connect Donald Trump to Putin,” he told The Post during the 2016 presidential campaign. “They’re trying to cast anyone on RT in a negative light. I think it’s deplorable.”
Edward Andrew Schultz was born Jan. 27, 1954, in Norfolk. His father was an aeronautical engineer, his mother a high school English teacher.
As a quarterback at what is now Minnesota State University Moorhead, Mr. Schultz led the NCAA’s Division II in passing in 1977. He had tryouts with the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets, then briefly played pro football in Canada before beginning his broadcasting career in 1979.
His marriage to Maureen Zimmerman ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 20 years, the former Wendy Noack, of Washington and Detroit Lakes, Minn.; a son from his first marriage, Dave Schultz of Fargo; and five stepchildren.
Mr. Schultz never claimed to be a Washington insider or an authority on politics. Instead, he maintained that he followed the same formula as Limbaugh and other talk-show practitioners.
“It’s entertainment,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2006. “It’s theater of the mind. It’s pace and sound.”