The magnetic and recording characteristics of Co-based thin film media are strongly influenced by microstructure. The media microstructural characteristics, in turn, depend on sputtering conditions of underlayers and magnetic layers. The role of Cr underlayer thickness and sputtering pressure have been reported previously. The present work examines the growth morphology and recording properties of a CoPtCr alloy on Cr underlayers where the deposition conditions such as sputtering pressure and rf bias were independently varied for the Cr underlayer and the magnetic layer. We find that the growth morphology of the magnetic layer is governed primarily by the deposition condition of the Cr underlayer. In particular, increased sputtering pressure for the Cr underlayer produces columnar morphology which induces isolation of the grains in the magnetic layer. This results in a significant reduction in the recording noise due to reduced intergrain exchange coupling. On the other hand, the application of ff bias during the deposition of the magnetic layer promotes more continuous magnetic grains, thereby increasing the recording noise. The observed trends in microstructure and recording noise can be understood qualitatively in terms of Thornton's microstructure diagram and the competition between micromorphological roughness and adatom mobility during the film growth.